The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Front cover illustration
Author Eric Carle
Illustrator Eric Carle
Cover artist Carle
Country United States
Genre Children's literature (Children's picture book)
Publisher Putnam/Philomel (US)
Hamish Hamilton (UK)
Publication date
June 3, 1969
Media type hardcover, board book
Pages 22bv
ISBN 0-399-22690-7 (US)
OCLC 21134403

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] 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,[2] it has sold 30 million copies worldwide.[3] It has been described as having sold the equivalent of a copy per minute since its publication.[4] It has been described as "one of the greatest childhood classics of all time."[5] It was voted the number two children's picture book in a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers.[6]

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.


A green baby caterpillar hatches from an egg, and from birth he experiences a perpetual craving for food. He eats through fruits on five days, one piece on the first, two on the second, and so on up to five,[7] then experiments with a wider variety of foods. Soon enough he eats too much and nauseates himself. After recovering he spins a cocoon in which he remains for the following two weeks. Later, the caterpillar emerges as a bright, colorful butterfly with large, gorgeous, multi-colored wings.

Foods eaten:


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

A Week with Willi Worm featured a bookworm named Willi. But Carle's editor Ann Beneduce advised that a green worm would not make a likable protagonist.[7][9] "Then my editor suggested a caterpillar instead and I said 'Butterfly!' That's how it began," Carle recalls.[8]

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.[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.[10] Based on a 2007 online poll, the National Education Association named the book one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children."[11] 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.[6][7]

Educational and cultural influence[edit]

Google search page on the 40th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The book has been translated into at least 40 languages,[12] including Dutch, French,[13] Spanish,[14] German,[15] Chinese,[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]

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."[24]

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.[8][25]

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.[26]


It was adapted for television in 1993 by the UK based Illuminated Film Company as part of an anthology called The World of Eric Carle that included four other Carle stories: The Very Quiet Cricket, The Mixed Up Chameleon, Papa, Please Get The Moon For Me and I See A Song.

It used a classical music-influenced soundtrack. Narration on the DVD release of the programme, entitled The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories, was performed by Roger McGough and Juliet Stevenson, while in the U.S. version, distributed by Disney, narration was by Brian Cummings and Linda Gary.[27] Subsequent to that adaptation, the film and TV rights were sold for £1 million.[28][dubious ]

Ancillary products[edit]

There have been numerous different editions of the book,[29] with various additional features, as well as games incorporating copies of the book. Examples include a pop-up version[30] and a book/card game combination from University Games.[31] Other toys and educational resources based upon or featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar are also plentiful.[32]

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.[33]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In one episode of Midsomer Murders called "The Ballad Of Midsomer County", Sarah Barnaby shows this book to a male babysitter telling him, that the daughter likes it for bedtime.
  • The book is referenced in a famous parody song, "The Reading Rainbow", performed by Jimmy Fallon.
  • In one episode of MAD called "Fast Hive", Tigger and Piglet fly out of the Winnie the Pooh book and end up in this book, where the Very Hungry Caterpillar gives them some honey.
  • In one episode of Dexter, Dexter's son is said to have read The Very Hungry Caterpillar with his nanny.
  • In one episode of Skins, Chris Miles tells Jal the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and adds that he often read the story after his brother's death.
  • In one episode of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson finishes a lap and reads this book before Richard Hammond finishes a lap
  • The book is mentioned by Goss, a villain from China Miéville's 2010 novel Kraken (as a typical example of children's literature).
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar made a cameo in the "Book People Unite" commercial towards the end in the crowd of literary characters.
  • In the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Guard Dog", the Chameleon made a parody of the book called "The Very Lonely Lizard", in which the lizard goes several places to make a friend, but he couldn't find any and was arrested for various crimes, such as shoplifting and loitering, and at the end of the book ends up never finding a friend.


  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. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  3. ^ Brockes, Emma (14 March 2009). "This one's got legs". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  4. ^ Taylor, Kate (22 October 2004). "Eat your heart out". The Guardian (London). 
  5. ^ Kate Taylor (22 October 2004). "Eat your heart out". The Guardian. 
  6. ^ a b "SLJ's Top 100 Picture Books" (poster presentation of reader poll results). A Fuse #8 Production. School Library Journal. 2012. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
  7. ^ a b c d e Bird, Elizabeth (June 28, 2012). "Top 100 Picture Books #2: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle". A Fuse 8 Production. Retrieved 2013-06-19.
  8. ^ a b c Khan, Urmee (20 March 2009). "Google celebrates Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  9. ^ "Hungry Caterpillar author on zoo maths". Retrieved 2009-03-20. 
  10. ^ "The Big Read". BBC. Retrieved 2008-09-08. 
  11. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved 2012-08-22. 
  12. ^ Accredited Language Services
  13. ^ ISBN 2871421749
  14. ^ ISBN 039923960X
  15. ^ ISBN 3806742596
  16. ^ ISBN 9577620981
  17. ^ ISBN 8804323329
  18. ^ ISBN 9163812134
  19. ^ ISBN 5903497047
  20. ^
  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. ^ http://electromagnetism/newspapers?id=w5YxAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pm4DAAAAIBAJ&pg=6769,1457812&dq=very-hungry-caterpillar&hl=en
  24. ^ Taylor, Kate (22 October 2004). "Eat your heart out". The Guardian. 
  25. ^ Google. Google. 20 March 2009. 
  26. ^ Associated Press (8 March 2011). "Groups Hope "Hungry Caterpillar" Helps Fight Fat". Washington Times. Retrieved 30 March 2011. 
  27. ^ The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other stories. Walt Disney Productions. December 31, 1995. 
  28. ^ Dominic Casciani (26 July 2005). Counting on the Caterpillar. BBC. 
  29. ^ "Caterpillar" publications at Penguin Putnam website
  30. ^,,9780399250392,00.html
  31. ^ "The Very Hungry Caterpillar Spinner: Book and Card Game". University Games. 2007-01-30. ISBN 978-1-57528-890-1. 
  32. ^
  33. ^

External links[edit]