The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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
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 Carle's third book, and uses distinctive collage illustrations which 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 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 caterpillar calls himself as "the Very Hungry Caterpillar". By the name of the insect, he apparently loves to eat. Soon, he begins to look for something to eat. He eats through increasing quantities of fruit for the following five days (Monday through Friday). First it 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. One by one, the days repeat the line, "But he was still hungry". On Saturday, he proceeds to eat the following: a slice of chocolate cake, an ice-cream cone, a pickle, a slice of Swiss cheese, a slice of salami, a lollipop, a slice of cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, and a slice of watermelon. That night he gets a stomachache from overeating.

The next day (Sunday again) the very hungry caterpillar tries again and begins by eating one green leaf, and afterwards feels much better. The next day the caterpillar is no longer hungry, and is no longer little. He has grown in size (being a big, fat, caterpillar). 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, metamorphosing into a butterfly.


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."[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. But Carle's editor Ann Beneduce 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. No US printer could do the work economically but Beneduce found one in Japan.[7]

Awards and accoladesEdit

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 influenceEdit

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]

The book received renewed attention when in 1999, Pizza Hut asked 50 U.S. 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."[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, to promote healthy eating in the U.S.[25]

UK releasesEdit


The Very Hungry Caterpillar was adapted for television on 1 September 1993 in the UK before being released on VHS video on 17 October 1994 distributed by PolyGram Video, then it re-released on 16 June 1997 distributed by Channel 5 Video and it also got re-released on 18 March 2002 distributed by Universal Pictures. a sublabel of PolyGram, 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 5 August 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 24 April 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.

Ancillary productsEdit

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 notesEdit

  1. ^ The book incorrectly 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 2012-08-05. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  3. ^ Fetters, Ashley (20 March 2019). "How The Very Hungry Caterpillar Became a Classic". The Atlantic. Boston.
  4. ^ a b Taylor, Kate (22 October 2004). "Eat your heart out". The Guardian. London.
  5. ^ a b Bird, Elizabeth (6 July 2012). "Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results". School Library Journal.
  6. ^ a b c Khan, Urmee (20 March 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 2013-06-19.
  8. ^ "Hungry Caterpillar author on zoo maths". Retrieved 2009-03-20.
  9. ^ "The Big Read". BBC. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  10. ^ National Education Association (2007). "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children". Retrieved 2012-08-22.
  11. ^ "These Are the NYPL's Top Check Outs OF ALL TIME". 13 January 2020.
  12. ^ "Accredited Language Services". Retrieved 11 March 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. ^ ISBN 8804323329
  18. ^ ISBN 9163812134
  19. ^ ISBN 5903497047
  20. ^ "הזחל הרעב קרל אריק". Retrieved 11 March 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 2012-01-09. Retrieved 2018-08-15.
  25. ^ "Groups Hope "Hungry Caterpillar" Helps Fight Fat". Washington Times. Associated Press. 8 March 2011. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  26. ^ "Julian Nott". IMDB. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  27. ^ Reed Brunson (2015-10-03), Opening to The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Stories by Eric Carle 1993 VHS (Rare), retrieved 2018-02-25
  28. ^ The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other stories. Walt Disney Productions. August 5, 1995.
  29. ^ Dominic Casciani (26 July 2005). Counting on the Caterpillar. BBC.
  30. ^ "Read - Penguin Books USA - Read". Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  31. ^,,9780399250392,00.html
  32. ^ The Very Hungry Caterpillar Spinner: Book and Card Game. University Games. 2007-01-30. ISBN 978-1-57528-890-1.
  33. ^ ""the very hungry caterpillar" - Google Search". Retrieved 11 March 2017.
  34. ^ Fahey, Mike. "The Nintendo Download: Countdown To Excitement". Retrieved 11 March 2017.

External linksEdit