Eric Carle’s most famous work, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, depicts the life cycle of a young caterpillar. Readers first meet the young caterpillar as he hatches from “a little egg lay[ing] on a leaf,” and follow him as he spends a week growing and eating fruit, desserts, and many other snacks. The caterpillar then builds himself a cocoon, spends several weeks inside, and eventually emerges as a beautiful butterfly.
This classic picture book, first published in 1969, has been used in countless classrooms and read by many young readers across the world. The book is ideal for young children, ages 2 – 6 years old, as it uses short words and a simple sentence structure throughout.
Carle uses a series of collages to create his stunning pictures; the illustrator paints on plain tissue paper with acrylic paint using a variety of paintbrushes and other texturizing tools to create a palette. To create his different images, he cuts out shapes from these colored pieces of tissue paper, and glues them together, like a collage, to form different foods, animals, and scenes. Throughout The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Carle uses the sun, the moon, leaves, fruits (apples, strawberries, oranges), a slice of cheese, a pickle, an ice cream cone, a slice of pie, a salami, and a large cocoon to describe the tiny caterpillar’s journey to becoming a butterfly.
In my opinion, this book fits perfectly into an early childhood classroom. The simplicity of the words and the direct correspondence between text and pictures on the page, allows children to practice reading and build comprehension skills, like using context clues and pictures to understand a story line. Additionally, the holes in each of the middle pages give children a chance to put their tiny fingers through the strawberries and the cupcake, furthering their interaction with the images and the text. It can also provide teachers with an opportunity to embed counting (one apple, two pears, three plums), the days of the week (on Monday he ate, on Tuesday he ate, on Wednesday he ate), and even the life cycle of a butterfly into reading. Through the use of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, teachers who might struggle with finding ways to meet grade level standards or generalize skills to multiple academic areas, can essentially kill many birds with one stone. Carle’s website includes links to teaching activities and lesson plans related to this and many of his other books.
In addition to the classical favorite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle has written and illustrated many amazing children’s books, including: The Grouchy Ladybug, The Very Busy Spider, The Foolish Tortoise, “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly.” said the Sloth, I See a Song, Why Noah Chose the Dove, and my personal favorite Draw Me a Star.
Carle, E. (2011). The official Eric Carle website. Retrieved from http://www.eric-carle.com/home.html
Carle, E. (1969, 1987). The very hungry caterpillar. New York, NY: Philomel Books.