The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Last summer we drove miles and miles and refilled the gas tank so we could drive miles and miles more (and this was after traveling by train and Greyhound bus) to go see The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. This museum has been on my list of things to do for years, and I talk about it at great length to anyone who will listen. Founded by Eric Carle and his wife Barbara, the museum is devoted to picture book art, “conceived and built with the aim of celebrating the art we know first”.
I was all worked up by the time we arrived at the museum. Giddy as a schoolgirl I had my picture taken in the parking lot with the Volkswagen Beetle that was decked out like The Very Hungry Caterpillar and again with the larger than life cutout image of The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the lobby. Then, I joined everyone not old enough to go to school in the theater to watch an animated short on The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I proceeded to spend hours in the gallery looking at original illustrations by Eric Carle. Bonus: they were also showcasing original illustrations by Leo Lionni and Lisbeth Zwerger (who I love). To finish I got lost in the bookstore and charged everything to my VISA – lets just say I didn’t declare everything when we got to the border.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a childhood classic, written and illustrated by Eric Carle. It follows a very hungry little caterpillar as he eats his way through a wide variety of food. Monday through Sunday he munches away until he can eat no more. No longer a little caterpillar, this big fat caterpillar builds himself a cocoon and weeks later immerge as a beautiful butterfly. This really simple story is a great teaching tool, teaching children to count and about the days of the week, nutrition and the life cycle of a butterfly.
The collage illustrations, created from hand-painted paper, are a beautiful way to reach children. Made from tissue paper splattered with colourful paints, which create wonderful textures, the papers are then cut into big bold shapes and layered. The translucency of the paper allows other layers and colours to shine through, creating what looks like sunlit stained glass.
The fun part is the punched out little holes in the food, which have been cut to look like the caterpillar ate it through the pages. The idea for this came to Carle one day while punch holes through a stack of paper. Excited by the concept of a bookworm, he created a story called “A Week with Willi the Worm”. The main character was later changed to a caterpillar on the suggestion of his editor. Ideas take shape in the simplest form, like using a hole puncher; you just need to be willing to look at things in a different light and be open-minded.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a children’s book review by Thao Lam
Author and Illustrator Eric Carle
Eric Carle was born in Syracuse, New York, where he lived until the age of six. In 1935 his parents decided to move the family to Germany. This proved to be an unfortunate move when four years later, Germany found itself at the center of World War II. Carle’s father was drafted during the war and fought alongside the Germans, until he was captured and imprisoned by the Russians. Released eight years later, his father came home a broken man. In a time of war, all able-bodied Germans were ordered to take up arms or contribute to the cause. At the age of 15, Carle and other boys his age were sent to dig trenches along the Siegfried Line
When the war ended in 1945, life slowly returned to normal. Carle went back to school and graduated from the Akademie der bildenden Künste, a prestigious art school in Stuttgart. With fond memories of his time in America, Carle left Germany to seek a new life there. Arriving with very little money and just a portfolio, Eric found a job at The New York Times. He started off as a graphic designer in the promotions department before moving on to become an art director for an advertising agency. For years, Carle worked in advertising and never gave any thought to becoming a children’s book illustrator until author Bill Martin Jr. approached him to illustrate Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Having seen Carle’s advertisement of a red lobster, Martin was drawn to his collage technique using textured and translucent papers, the style we are all so familiar with today.
For more information on Eric Carle, please visit his website www.eric-carle.com
Publisher Philomel (March 23, 1994)