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Endlessly Hungry: The story of the Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle's 'The Hungry Caterpillar' was published 50 years ago and therefore it is celebrating its anniversary this year! Approximately 50 MILLION copies in 62 languages have been sold around the world! I think we can call ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ one of the ultimate bestsellers in the children’s books category. Today Carle's little tale is still as popular as ever….but why? (Perhaps you already have an answer for this question….In this case you don’t have to finish reading this blog post! Feel free to read the other ones though.)

Of course, Eric Carle's 'The Hungry Caterpillar' is also an essential part of Wee Bookworms Book Subscriptions

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The storyline

On a Sunday a tiny caterpillar hatches out of an egg and comes into this world to enjoy some healthy fruits! However, from Monday to Friday, he cannot stop eating! Then, on Saturday he eats especially badly (Junk-food-galore). However, he evens that out on Sunday, as he only gobbles up a lovely leaf. Finally, our famous caterpillar hides in a cocoon for a couple of weeks to turn into a beautiful butterfly.

A little bit about the Author

Eric Carle

Carle was born in 1929 in Syreacuse (New York). His father originated from Germany. When Carle was only 6 years old, the family decided to move to Germany. Of course, 1935 was a bad time to move back to Germany to! Unfortunately, Carle's father had to go to war and was captured by the Soviets.  After he returned from war and captivity, he was no longer the person he had been beforehand. The war had changed him-the positive and happy man was gone. Carle often believed that his troublesome upbringing in Germany in some ways inspired him to write and illustrate 'The Hungry Caterpillar'. Rather than verbally and artistically expressing his terrible experiences, Carle wrote a positive, self-affirming story with bright and happy illustrations that mediate the idea that anything is possible. Carle once said that The Hungry Caterpillar is a book of hope as the caterpillar transforms and is able to fly away. Perhaps this positive message is why the book is still as popular as it was 50 years ago.

Actually, Carle was firstly introduced to the power of intense and bright colours by his art teacher, who showed him expressionist art that was banned in Nazi Germany.

Later Carle moved back to New York, where he worked in advertising. Similar to his dad, he was drafted by the US Army too!

A little bit more about the book

Who would have thought that The Hungry Caterpillar was not a caterpillar in the beginning but a bookworm? 'The Hungry Bookworms'... We wee Bookworms would have certainly loved a bookworm as the main character too! By the way, the original title of Carle's idea was 'A week With Willi Worm'.

Due to the caterpillar's endless hunger (and his hole-eating tendencies) it was rather difficult to find printers that were able to print the special layout of the book. However, after a long search, a publisher could be found in Japan!  

But what makes 'The Hungry Caterpillar' so captivating? Perhaps kids and their parents still love this tale due to its educational elements and vibrant colours. Not only do children learn about colours, fruits, the days of the week and numbers but they are also encouraged to think about healthy and unhealthy eating. And, of course, the illustrations are incredibly vivid and inviting. The book also indirectly discusses the idea of ‘transformation’: the caterpillar changes in size, goes into a cocoon and then becomes a beautiful caterpillar. A very hungry caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly that can fly anywhere. So, although there are a few lessons to be learned from our beloved caterpillar, the story is still not educationally overpowering and morally instructive (Take a look at the blog on the History of Children’s books for more morally overpowering children’s books!)

Its vibrant illustrations, unique set-up and simplistic story are reminders of the beautiful things in life and the beautiful things that can be achieved. In the caterpillar’s case, he only has to 'eat' his way through some obstacles in order to become a butterfly.

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