This cleverly constructed picture book was first published in 1969, and remains a classic. Apparently Eric Carle was punching holes through stacks of paper when he came up witb the idea for a story about a bookworm. A worm was not sufficiently appealing as a protagonist though and ‘Willi the Worm’ evolved very quickly into a caterpillar. The holes, however, remained, showing the caterpillar’s path through his various meals. The enjoyably tactile holes and Carle’s simple, vibrant illustrations have made this one of the most iconic children’s books of all time.
The story is a simple one: the caterpillar hatches, feels hungry, and munches his way through a variety of things before eventually becoming a butterfly. The humour builds up to Saturday’s final ill-advised binge on junk food and delivers a timeless message on the perils of poor eating as the caterpillar suffers a stomachache before detoxing on ‘one nice green leaf’.
Not only does it contain a nice little moral about healthy eating but without doing it overtly (which children are rightly suspicious of; even young children dislike being patronised) The Very Hungry Caterpillar also teaches children to count to five and the days of the week, the names of several fruits and the life cycle of moths and butterflies.
The book is short and particularly in board book form little fingers can enjoy poking through the holes left by the caterpillar. The simple list format also means that it works when read even from a very early age.
The pedantic will no doubt take issue with the mislabelling of the caterpillar’s little house as a ‘cocoon’ (rather than a chrysalis – cocoons are for moths) but that is hardly a major flaw in what is otherwise a perfect little book.