The Very Hungry Caterpillar

In my sto­ry­time bag this past month I’ve been car­ry­ing The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar by Eric Car­le. I don’t always use it, but I like hav­ing it with me — I know it will always work. When I pull this book out of the bag, there are smiles, clap­ping some­times, and always a cho­rus of  “I have that book!”

The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar is fifty years old this year. I tell the chil­dren the book and I are the same age and they mar­vel out how well we’ve both weath­ered the years, how vibrant we remain at fifty. If they are old enough, we count to fifty togeth­er and they’re tru­ly astound­ed how old that is, giv­en that they are three or six and their old­er sib­ling is only eight, their moth­er thirty-two.

I don’t remem­ber this book from my child­hood. But I read it with my own kids — our copy was in board book form. Although there are many fab­u­lous things about this book, the key for my kids was always that the foods the cater­pil­lar ate each had one per­fect­ly round hole through it — a real hole in the page! A hole through Monday’s apple, a hole through both of the pears of Tues­day, and on through the fruits as the cater­pil­lar “eats the rain­bow” through Fri­day. Then, mar­velous­ly, a hole through each of the foods on Saturday’s eat­ing binge.

Because of how the book is laid out, and because holes nec­es­sar­i­ly poke through both sides of a page, when the cater­pil­lar has a stom­ach ache as a result of all he’s eat­en, and the page is turned and he eats through one nice green leaf, there is not one, but five holes through that leaf.

#1 Son count­ed those five holes each time we came to them. I think he count­ed them before he learned to count as I always had to wait for him to poke his chub­by fin­ger into each of the five holes, one after the oth­er, before we could turn the page again. Some­times I count­ed, some­times I didn’t. It was all about the hole, real­ly. So per­fect­ly sized for a tod­dler or pre-school­er fin­ger. Today those holes look a lit­tle worn in our board book. We read The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar a lot.

When I read the book in sto­ry­time, the kids are not on my lap and so they don’t poke their fin­gers through the holes. My less durable but larg­er copy of the book has held up fine. They’re hap­py to count with me as I point (and I nev­er point at the hole, leav­ing it vis­i­ble to all.) They rev­el in the page turns, even as they know what food is next. And the hilar­i­ty of the caterpillar’s rapid growth, the inter­est­ing fact of his cocoon, and the beau­ty of his trans­for­ma­tion nev­er fails to sat­is­fy. It’s a win­ner every time.

Last week, after sto­ry­time had end­ed and I was chat­ting with the kids’ grown-ups, I turned around and there was a lit­tle boy look­ing through The Very Hun­gry Cater­pil­lar on his own. Very gen­tly he turned the pages, scan­ning the art, point­ing to the egg on the leaf…the moon…the sun…the tiny cater­pil­lar. And when the cater­pil­lar start­ed to look for food, the lit­tle boy took his curi­ous three-year-old point­er fin­ger and gen­tly placed it in the hole of Monday’s apple. He turned the flap/page and placed his fin­ger in the hole of first one pear and then the oth­er. He pro­ceed­ed through all the holed fruits in this way, and then count­ed aloud the five holes in the nice green leaf.

I watched, trans­port­ed twen­ty years back by his chub­by lit­tle point­er fin­ger. When he got to the but­ter­fly at the end, he smiled and gen­tly closed the book. By then I was sit­ting beside him, riv­et­ed. He held his fin­ger just exact­ly like my son had. 

He hand­ed the book to me and said, “I love this book. It makes me hungry.”

He was gone before I could swal­low the lump in my throat.

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