Why we love caterpillars
Easy to follow; education mixed with fun; lovely illustrations
The Bottom Line:
Easy read with nice pictures; great for young children
Even before she could talk, my young daughter loved this classic children's story, which recounts the transformation of a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.
Written and illustrated by Eric Carle, this book comes in a number of formats. I'm reviewing the board book which is approximately the size (though not the depth, obviously) of a 7in x5in photo. The story is short, with only 14 pages with words, so my review is already longer than the book. The plot in a nutshell is this: a caterpillar comes out of an egg, looks for food, finds and eats it, gets huge and becomes a butterfly.
Getting the picture
The front cover is white, containing the title and a large green caterpillar with a red head. Its back is curved and its feet are on the ground and it appears to be looking straight at the reader. Most of the inside pages are also white with highly colored drawings. The only exception is the first page of the story which is set at night and is mostly dark blues and greens. All the illustrations are highly colored and are drawn in a way that suggests texture, so you can almost feel the lumpy earth that the caterpillar is standing on. The same is true of the variety of fruit and other items that the caterpillar eats on his way to adulthood.
The caterpillar eats a different food or foods on each day of the week, so your child can learn the days of the week and the names of the different food items. On the first five days, the caterpillar eats increasing amounts of fruit (one apple, two pears etc) so your child will be able to count as well. The fruit are different colors (something else your child can point out) and each type is presented on an individual page. One novel feature is that there are four short pages in the middle, each of which has a different type of fruit. In other words, the apple has a page about an inch wide, the pears, two inches and so on. This creates an interesting overlapping effect. The fruit pages also have holes to show where the caterpillar has eaten; the picture on the other side shows the caterpillar emerging from the piece of fruit. Children will also learn how a caterpillar changes: starting small, growing larger, building a cocoon and emerging.
The toddler test
I didn't think the opening sentence was particularly inspiring ('In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf') but it's not what I think that counts. My daughter really enjoyed pointing to the moon, the egg and the leaf and finding the caterpillar on each page. She thinks it's hilarious when the caterpillar becomes big and fat and loves it when the caterpillar changes into a brightly colored butterfly. Part of the fun of the book comes with the variety of other items the caterpillar consumes. Now, I'm not an expert on caterpillars but I somehow doubt that they eat ice-cream or pickles. The sheer quantity of items always makes my daughter laugh out loud. She also enjoys the caterpillar popping out of the egg (and we have great fun making explosive popping sounds). Over the last two years, we've progressed from silent pointing, to pointing and naming, to counting. She still loves this story and requests it regularly (I've even heard her reading it to her dolls).
The Eric Carle industry
There are several other versions of this book (box sets, larger format books and teacher materials) and on a recent trip to the US I also discovered a whole 'hungry caterpillar' industry with baby clothes bearing the distinctive picture of the caterpillar available from Macy's. This is very nice stuff, which I haven't seen in the UK.
If you want more books by Eric Carle, there are 400-odd entries under his name on Amazon.com. We already own The Very Busy Spider (a longer story which is also a favorite and which I personally prefer) and have read From Head to Toe and The Greedy Python.
This is a simple tale which is great for young children. There's not as much in it for adults as some other children's stories, but my daughter's thorough enjoyment of it still makes it a winner for me.