The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Front cover illustration
AuthorEric Carle
IllustratorEric Carle
Cover artistDerrick
CountryUnited States
GenreChildren's literature (Children's picture book)
PublisherWorld Publishing Company (US)
Hamish Hamilton (UK)
Publication date
June 3, 1969
Media typeHardcover, Board book
ISBN0-399-22690-7 (US)

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.[1] The book features a very hungry caterpillar who eats his 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,[2] it has sold almost 50 million copies worldwide.[3] It has been described as having sold the equivalent of a copy per minute since its publication, and as "one of the greatest childhood classics of all time".[4] It was voted the number two children's picture book in a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers.[5]

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is Carle's third book, and uses distinctive collage illustrations that were innovative at the time of publication, 'eaten' holes in the pages, and simple text with educational themes – counting, the days of the week, foods, and a butterfly's life stages. It teaches children how to count and to make one-to-one correspondences between numbers and the items the Very Hungry Caterpillar has eaten. There have been many related books and other products, including educational tools, created in connection to the book. The Very Hungry 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.


First shown on a Saturday night, by the light of the moon, an egg lies on a leaf. When the egg hatches early Sunday morning, the newly born insect is revealed as a caterpillar. The text describes him as "a tiny and very hungry caterpillar". By the name of the bug, he begins to look for something to eat. The very hungry caterpillar eats through increasing quantities of fruit for the following five days (Monday through Friday). First he starts with one apple on Monday, then two pears on Tuesday, then three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday. Each of the days repeat the line, "But he was still hungry". On Saturday, he has a conniption and eats a piece of chocolate cake, an ice-cream cone, a pickle, a slice of Swiss cheese, a slice of salami, a lollipop, a piece of cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, and a slice of watermelon. That night he gets a stomachache from overeating, especially from the Saturday quantities of food.

The next day (Sunday again) the very hungry caterpillar tries again and begins by eating one green leaf, and afterwards feels much better. But the next day (Monday again) the caterpillar is no longer hungry, and is no longer little. He is now grown in size (being a big, fat, caterpillar). Beginning with that day, he was a big caterpillar now. On the same day (Monday), the now-big caterpillar spins a chrysalis[a] around himself. Once inside, he stays inside for at least two weeks. After two weeks, the caterpillar nibbles a hole in the chrysalis and pushes his way out. Finally, he develops into a butterfly with large, gorgeous, multi-colored wings. Now a butterfly, the butterfly cycle starts again. The story follows a caterpillar's actual life cycle: first eating leaves and growing into a big and fat caterpillar, then spinning a chrysalis, and finally metamorphosing into a butterfly.


Carle said he 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."[6] Carle was familiar with "differently shaped pages" from books that he read as a child in Germany.[7]

A Week with Willi the Worm featured a bookworm named Willi. Ann Beneduce, Carle's editor, advised that a green worm would not make a likable protagonist.[7][8] "Then my editor suggested a caterpillar instead and I said 'Butterfly!' That's how it began," Carle recalls.[6]

The differently shaped pages with holes representing the caterpillar's trail through foodstuffs were a challenge. Because printers in the U.S were too expensive, Beneduce located and used a print shop in Japan.[7]

Awards and accolades[edit]

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.[2]

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.[9] Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association listed the book as one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children".[10] 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.[5][7]

The Very Hungry Caterpillar was number ten on the list of "Top Check Outs of All Time" by the New York Public Library.[11]

Educational and cultural influence[edit]

The book has been translated into at least 40 languages,[12] including Dutch, French,[13] Spanish,[14] German,[15] Japanese,[16] Italian,[17] Portuguese, Swedish,[18] Russian,[19] and Hebrew.[20] It has been used by elementary school teachers, librarians, and parents as a teaching aid, with activities developed which use the book.[21][22]

It was used by former first lady Barbara Bush as part of her campaign to promote literacy.[23] In 1999, the pizza restaurant Pizza Hut asked 50 U.S. governors to name their favorite books from childhood. The then governor of Texas, George W. Bush, named Hungry Caterpillar, despite having been of college age at the time of its publication.[4]

In 2009, Google celebrated the book's 40th anniversary by rendering the logo on its main search page in the style used in the book.[6][24]

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics sent out special copies of the book, with associated learning tools, to health providers, for a campaign to healthy eating in the U.S.[25]

UK releases[edit]


The Very Hungry Caterpillar was adapted for television on September 1, 1993 in the UK before being released on VHS video on October 17, 1994 distributed by PolyGram Video, then it re-released on June 16, 1997 distributed by Channel 5 Video, a sub-label of PolyGram and it also got re-released on March 18, 2002 distributed by Universal Pictures, 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.[26] Narration on the UK releases of the programme, entitled The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories, was performed by Roger McGough and Juliet Stevenson, this version was briefly released in the US in the same year by Scholastic[27] before on August 5, 1995, Disney released a US dub of the video, with narration by Brian Cummings and Linda Gary.[28] Subsequent to that adaptation, the film and TV rights were sold for £1 million.[29][dubious ]


The Very Hungry Caterpillar was released on DVD on April 24, 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. It was also released on DVD in the US by Disney. The DVD was also adapted into a 10-track CD, titled The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories.

Ancillary products[edit]

There have been numerous different editions of the book,[30] with various additional features, as well as games incorporating copies of the book. Examples include a pop-up version[31] and a book/card game combination from University Games.[32] Other toys and educational resources based upon or featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar are also plentiful.[33]

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.[34]

References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ The book uses the term "cocoon" instead of "chrysalis".
  1. ^ 100 Best Books for Children, Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004, ISBN 978-0-618-27889-3
  2. ^ a b "Eric Carle collection". University Libraries – Information courtesy of the Gale Group. Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved September 8, 2008.
  3. ^ Fetters, Ashley (March 20, 2019). "How The Very Hungry Caterpillar Became a Classic". The Atlantic. Boston.
  4. ^ a b Taylor, Kate (October 22, 2004). "Eat your heart out". The Guardian. London.
  5. ^ a b Bird, Elizabeth (July 6, 2012). "Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results". School Library Journal.
  6. ^ a b c Khan, Urmee (March 20, 2009). "Google celebrates Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  7. ^ a b c d Bird, Elizabeth (June 28, 2012). "Top 100 Picture Books #2: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle". A Fuse 8 Production. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  8. ^ "Hungry Caterpillar author on zoo maths". Retrieved March 20, 2009.
  9. ^ "The Big Read". BBC. Retrieved September 8, 2008.
  10. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved August 22, 2012.
  11. ^ "These Are the NYPL's Top Check Outs OF ALL TIME". January 13, 2020.
  12. ^ "Accredited Language Services". Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  13. ^ Carle, Eric (2003). La chenille qui fait des trous. ISBN 2871421749.
  14. ^ La oruga muy hambrienta. 2002. ISBN 039923960X.
  15. ^ Carle, Eric (1969). Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt. ISBN 3806742596.
  16. ^ Carle, Eric (February 2001). はらぺこあおむし. ISBN 9577620981.
  17. ^ Carle, Eric (1989). Il piccolo Bruco Maisazio. ISBN 8804323329.
  18. ^ Carle, Eric (1998). Den mycket hungriga larven. ISBN 9163812134.
  19. ^ Карл, Эрик (2008). Очень голодная гусеница. ISBN 978-5903497041.
  20. ^ "הזחל הרעב קרל אריק". Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  21. ^ The librarian's complete guide to involving parents through children's literature, Anthony D. Fredericks, Libraries Unlimited, 1997. ISBN 1-56308-538-0 p. 93
  22. ^ Teaching Terrific Fours, Annal Jones, Carol Crownover, Elizabeth Jones. Humanism Learning, 2006. ISBN 0-89334-419-2 p. 92
  23. ^ Tate, Mikayla (June 10, 2019). "PSCD Summer Reading: The Very Hungry Caterpillar". Provo City School District. Retrieved July 24, 2020. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into 40 different languages and was also used by Barbara Bush as part of her literacy campaign.
  24. ^ "First Day of Spring 2009 - Design by Eric Carle". Google. Archived from the original on January 9, 2012. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  25. ^ "Groups Hope "Hungry Caterpillar" Helps Fight Fat". Washington Times. Associated Press. March 8, 2011. Retrieved March 30, 2011.
  26. ^ "Julian Nott". IMDB. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  27. ^ Reed Brunson (October 3, 2015), Opening to The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Stories by Eric Carle 1993 VHS (Rare), retrieved February 25, 2018
  28. ^ The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other stories. Walt Disney Productions. August 5, 1995.
  29. ^ Dominic Casciani (July 26, 2005). Counting on the Caterpillar. BBC.
  30. ^ "Read - Penguin Books USA - Read". Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  31. ^,,9780399250392,00.html
  32. ^ The Very Hungry Caterpillar Spinner: Book and Card Game. University Games. January 30, 2007. ISBN 978-1-57528-890-1.
  33. ^ ""the very hungry caterpillar" - Google Search". Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  34. ^ Fahey, Mike. "The Nintendo Download: Countdown To Excitement". Retrieved March 11, 2017.

External links[edit]