What we’re reading: Carle classics

It’s a subject that you might associate with boring school science lessons.

Yet the life cycle of the humble caterpillar – from hatching to pupating and its final metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly – is the simple storyline of one of the bestselling picture books of all time.

Reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle has been a rite of passage for small children since it came out back in 1969. It has sold around 30 million copies, which means it has no doubt been a bedtime story billions of times. What a mind boggling thought.


The magic lies in Carle’s distinctive, vibrant collage illustrations that were a new technique at the time. There’s a wonderful appeal to the iconic insect’s wiggly green body and large oval eyes.

That, and the little holes our hero chomps through his meals (and the pages) each day.

Apparently Carle got the idea while using a hole punch on a stack of paper. I love how such a mundane task inspired this key element of the book.


The charming tale not only educates tots about the Lepidoptera life stages (I only know this because of Wikipedia…). Thanks to the caterpillar’s insatiable appetite, readers learn basic numbers, fruits and days of the week too.

So I think we can forgive Eric Carle for not including a wholly factually accurate diet for our literary larvae…


While I knew The Very Hungry Caterpillar well, I’d never previously come across his first published work Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

The book is a simple poem by Bill Martin Jr about different coloured animals, which is easy for tiny ones to pick up and join in.

But the gorgeous full page illustrations by Carle are what make it sing. It’s just beautiful to look at.


The rhyme itself came to Martin, a teacher, on a train one day and then he saw an illustration of a lobster in a magazine and contacted the artist responsible to help with his book.

Carle created the artwork in just one weekend – and the rest is children’s book history.

The pair went on to collaborate on more bestsellers and Carle left his career in advertising for the world of children’s literature.

Brown Bear turns 50 this month but there is a timeless quality to it that means generations of children will continue to discover it, just like we have.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, £6.99 (boardbook), Puffin.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr & Eric Carle – 50th Anniversary Edition with audio CD read by Eric Carle, £7.99, Puffin.

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