The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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.


One Sunday morning, a red-faced caterpillar hatches from an egg, and begins to look for some food. He eats through increasing quantities of fruit on the following five days, one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday, and then, on Saturday, he has an enormous feast. By the end of Saturday, the inevitable happens and he is ill. After recovering from a stomach-ache, he returns to a more sensible diet by eating through a large green leaf before spinning a cocoon in which he remains for the following 2 weeks. Later, the "big fat caterpillar" emerges as a beautiful butterfly with large, gorgeous, multi-coloured wings.


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

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 likeable protagonist.[8][9] "Then my editor suggested a caterpillar instead and I said 'Butterfly!' That's how it began," Carle recalls.[7]

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.[8]

Awards and accolades

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][8]

Educational and cultural influence

Google Doodle 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.[7][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]

UK Releases


The Very Hungry Caterpillar was adapted for television on 11 September 1993 before being released on VHS on 18 March 2002, broadcast by Channel 5 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. Narration on the UK releases of the programme, entitled The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories, was performed by Roger McGough and Juliet Stevenson, while in the US version on 5 August 1995, 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]


The Very Hungry Caterpillar was released on DVD on 24 April 2006, this time recommended by the UK based Illuminated Film Company, but this time 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.

Ancillary products

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]


  1. 100 Best Books for Children, Anita Silvey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2004, ISBN 978-0-618-27889-3
  2. 1 2 "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. 1 2 "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. 1 2 3 Khan, Urmee (20 March 2009). "Google celebrates Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  8. 1 2 3 4 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.
  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
  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. August 5, 1995.
  28. Dominic Casciani (26 July 2005). Counting on the Caterpillar. BBC.
  29. "Caterpillar" publications at Penguin Putnam website
  31. "The Very Hungry Caterpillar Spinner: Book and Card Game". University Games. 2007-01-30. ISBN 978-1-57528-890-1.
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