March 2009

Beloved larva inches toward 40

By Eric Carle
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Eric Carle celebrates two milestones this year: his 80th birthday and the 40th anniversary of one of his beloved little creatures. To mark the occasion of the latter, he has translated the 1969 classic tale of a butterfly larva’s culinary and developmental adventures into 3-D. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Pop-up Book retells the familiar story—complete with the trail of holes left by the caterpillar—in Carle’s signature lush hues.

The story starts on a moonlit night: the sky’s awash in turquoise, cobalt and teal; and a face emerges from the whites, grays and blues of the moon. Carle achieves these layered colors by creating collages of torn and cut hand-painted tissue paper; the resulting images elevate even the simplest pops to works of art.

In The Very Hungry Caterpillar Pop-up Book, all the fruit the caterpillar devours in his first week is shown (the pears and apple are rendered especially well; they look as though snatched from an old master’s still life). His Saturday binge is a smorgasbord of chocolate cake, Swiss cheese, ice cream, pickle, lollipop and more. Once the caterpillar returns to a more suitable diet—and after he recovers from his Saturday night stomachache—our little friend experiences a Nutcracker tree-like growth spurt before settling into his magnificent accordion-like cocoon. His metamorphosis is complete by the final double spread, when he appears as a Klimt- and Hundertwasser-esque masterpiece.

Carle was a graphic designer for the New York Times and got his start in books by illustrating Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? He then began creating his own colorful children’s books, drawing his inspiration from nature. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was his second and has remained a favorite of the youngest of readers for decades.

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