I was looking at the Publisher’s Weekly list of the bestselling children’s books of 2020 last week and noticed that Eric Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar was number five on the list, so I was sad to read of his passing last Sunday. If you have children, you might have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar once or twice, or perhaps a thousand times, as I have!
I set off in search of my copy and couldn’t find it, which made me sad, although I’m sure it’s around somewhere. Perhaps one of my children has snaffled it?
First published in 1969, the book was an immediate success and has remained on the bestseller list ever since. Over forty million copies have been sold over the last five decades and it’s been translated into 60 languages. The book has enduring appeal thanks to its combination of lovely writing and beguiling pictures. The caterpillar seemed to have an insatiable appetite and you never quite knew what he was going to eat next. Also, kids (and adults) know what it’s like to be VERY hungry and eat anything in front of you, even if you end up with a tummy ache!
My kids loved the fact that you could poke your fingers through the holes in the book. Carle said that he was inspired to write a story about a bookworm when he was using a hole punch one day. Originally entitled “A week with Willie the Worm”, his editor convinced him to change his protagonist to a caterpillar and the rest is history.
Eric Carle sounds like he was a lovely man. In an interview with The New York Times in 1994, Carle said when he was a child, “I always felt I would never grow up and be big and articulate and intelligent. Caterpillar is a book of hope: You, too, can grow up and grow wings.” I love that idea. Who doesn’t want to turn into a beautiful butterfly?
So thank you Eric Carle for writing an excellent book. It has given my family hours of enjoyment and I’m looking forward to reading it again when I find it. If not, I’ll just buy a new copy because thankfully, it’s still in print.