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The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a children's picture book designed, illustrated and written by Eric Carle, first published by the World Publishing Company in 1969, later published by Penguin Putnam. It features a caterpillar who eats its way through a wide variety of foodstuffs before pupating and emerging as a butterfly. The winner of many children's literature awards and a major graphic design award, it has sold 30 million copies worldwide. It has been described as having sold the equivalent of a copy per minute since its publication. It has been described as "one of the greatest childhood classics of all time." It was voted the number two children's picture book in a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar uses distinctive collage illustrations (Carle's third book, and a new style at the time), 'eaten' holes in the pages and simple text with educational themes – counting, the days of the week, foods, and a butterfly's life stages. There have been a large number of related books and other products, including educational tools, created in connection to the book. The caterpillar's diet is fictional rather than scientifically accurate, but the book introduces concepts of Lepidoptera life stages where transformations take place including the ultimate metamorphosis from 'hungry caterpillar' to 'beautiful butterfly', and it has been endorsed by the Royal Entomological Society.
One Sunday morning, a red-faced caterpillar hatches from an egg, and begins to look for some food. He eats through increasing quantities of fruit on the following five days, one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday, and then, on Saturday, he has an enormous feast. By the end of Saturday, the inevitable happens and he is ill ("having a stomachache"). After recovering from a stomach-ache, he returns to a more sensible diet by eating through a large green leaf before spinning a cocoon in which he remains for the following 2 weeks. Later, the "big fat caterpillar" emerges as a beautiful butterfly with large, gorgeous, multi-coloured wings.
In a sense the book was inspired by a hole punch: "One day I was punching holes with a hole puncher into a stack of paper, and I thought of a bookworm and so I created a story called A Week with Willi the Worm." Carle was familiar with "different shaped pages" from books that he read as a child in Germany.
A Week with Willi the Worm featured a bookworm named Willi. But Carle's editor Ann Beneduce advised that a green worm would not make a likeable protagonist. "Then my editor suggested a caterpillar instead and I said 'Butterfly!' That's how it began," Carle recalls.
The different shaped pages with holes representing the caterpillar's trail through foodstuffs were a challenge. No US printer could do the work economically but Beneduce found one in Japan.
Awards and accolades
The book has won numerous awards, including an American Institute of Graphic Arts Award in 1970, the Selection du Grand Prix des Treize in France in 1972, and the Nakamori Reader's Prize in Japan in 1975.
The New York Times cited it as one of the "Ten Best Picture Books of the Year" in 1969. The book placed at number 199 in the Big Read, a 2003 poll conducted by the BBC to determine the United Kingdom's best loved books. It was one of the few picture books to place on the list. Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children." Five years later School Library Journal sponsored a survey of readers which identified The Very Hungry Caterpillar as the number two children's picture book, behind only Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.
Educational and cultural influence
The book has been translated into at least 40 languages, including Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish, Russian, and Hebrew. It has been used by elementary school teachers, librarians, and parents, as a teaching aid, with activities developed which use the book.
It was used by former first lady Barbara Bush as part of her campaign to promote literacy.
The book received renewed attention when in 1999, Pizza Hut asked 50 US governors to name their favorite books from childhood. Presidential candidate George W. Bush "opted for the Caterpillar. It didn't take long for gleeful commentators to point out that when the book was published, Bush was nearly 23."
In 2009, Google celebrated the book's 40th anniversary by changing the logo on its main search page to the style used in the book.
In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics sent out special copies of the book, with associated learning tools, to health providers, to promote healthy eating in the U.S.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar was adapted for television on 11 September 1993 before being released on video on 18 March 2002, distributed by Channel 5 Video Distribution as part of an anthology called The World Of Eric Carle that included The Very Hungry Caterpillar, along with four other Eric Carle stories, including: Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me, The Very Quiet Cricket, The Mixed Up Chameleon, and I See A Song.
It used a classical music-influenced soundtrack by Wallace & Gromit composer Julian Nott. Narration on the UK releases of the programme, entitled The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories, was performed by Roger McGough and Juliet Stevenson, while in the US version on 5 August 1995, distributed by Disney, narration was by Brian Cummings and Linda Gary. Subsequent to that adaptation, the film and TV rights were sold for £1 million.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar was released on DVD on 24th April 2006, this time presented by the Illuminated Film Company and broadcast by Ventura Distribution as part of the anthology called The World Of Eric Carle that included The Very Hungry Caterpillar, along with four other Eric Carle stories: Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me, The Very Quiet Cricket, The Mixed Up Chameleon and I See A Song.
There have been numerous different editions of the book, with various additional features, as well as games incorporating copies of the book. Examples include a pop-up version and a book/card game combination from University Games. Other toys and educational resources based upon or featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar are also plentiful.
An educational video game based on the book, titled The Very Hungry Caterpillar's ABCs, was released by CYBIRD Co. Ltd. for WiiWare on September 20, 2010.
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