The Very Hungry Caterpillar Copyright © 1969 and 1987 by Eric Carle Published by Philomel Books ISBN 0-399-20853-4

"Daddy, can you read me a book?"

"It's late, RunningHammer. How about we just lie down?"

"Pleeeaaase? A short one?"

"OK. A short one."

He rummaged through the basket of books at the foot of his bed. "A hungry cadderpillar book, Daddy?"

"Sure."

The Very Hungry Caterpillar chronicles the gastronomical adventures of a caterpillar from his beginning as an egg to a beautuful butterfly transformation. In typical Eric Carle style, the pictures are brilliant collages of tissue paper painted with various colors of acrylic paint.

The storyline provides a counting lesson for the preschool crowd as the caterpillar eats his way through the week. After being born on Sunday, he naturally was hungry and, beginning the next day, incrementally eats his way through the week. He starts with an apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday and so on until Friday.

Saturday, however, he apparently comes across a picnic. Up until now, he has eaten only fresh fruit. At the picnic, he gorges himself on processed foods: salami, ice cream, cherry pie and more. Subsequently, our poor hero feels ill. I think here Carle is quietly letting our youngsters know the importance of healthy eating. To prove his point, on Sunday again the caterpillar eats a green leaf (roughage, anyone?) and feels all better.

Naturally, he is now a large caterpillar, approaching the critical mass of his caterpillarness. The next two pages bring us the colorful climax of his transformation.

According to his web site, http://www.eric-carle.com/, this story began as a one about a worm who ate holes through pages. His editor, however, did not like the idea of a worm and suggested a caterpillar. Carle made the leap to the butterfly ending and the book was born.

Carle dedicated the story to his sister, Christa. As for the fact that the caterpillar builds himself a cocoon in stead of a chrysalis, Carle said

My caterpillar is very unusual. As you know caterpillars don't eat lollipops and ice cream, so you won't find my caterpillar in any field guides. But also, when I was a small boy, my father would say, "Eric, come out of your cocoon." He meant I should open up and be receptive to the world around me. For me, it would not sound right to say, "Come out of your chrysalis." And so poetry won over science!

This book has gotten a lot of air time in my home. After a few readings, the boys -- first MaShone, then SweetFaceBoy and now RunningHammer -- will stop me to read the caterpillar's daily menu and the Saturday food fest themselves. In this way, it teaches not only counting skills but by matching pictures with words sets the foundations for reading.

"He's a very beautiful cadderpiller, Daddy."

"Yes he is. I like the moon at the beginning, don't you?"

"Oh yes. Didn't he get really fat after all that food?"

"Yes. And he got a belly ache too."

"I think he pooped."

"I think he did too."

In my experience, after a few readings your young audience will be close to reading the book to you and stopping you to go back a few pages to look at the pictures. Personally, I like the ones of the sun and the moon. RunningHammer can't decide. He likes them all.

"That's a good story, Daddy."

"Yes it is. Time to close your eyes now."

"Maybe we can read it another time?"

"Of course, sweetie."

"Good night, Daddy."

"Good night, big guy."

All told, The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be considered an essential book to add to any child's (or parent's) library.

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