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The Very Hungry Caterpillar Hardcover – October 15, 1981
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Eric Carle is the creator, author, and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and many other children’s books. Tomie dePaola is the author and illustrator of Strega Nona: Her Story and countless other books. They recently had a conversation about their careers as picture book authors.
Tomie dePaola: When I was only four years old, I announced to my family in particular and to the world in general that I was going to become an artist, and write stories and draw pictures for books. I never swayed from that early declaration. I’ve always been curious to know, what inspired you to become a creator and illustrator of picture books?
Eric Carle: My career began as a graphic designer and for a number of years I worked as an art director for an advertising agency in New York. In the mid 1960's Bill Martin, Jr. saw an ad of a red lobster that I had designed and asked me to illustrate his Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Well, I was set on fire! I was so inspired by this book, and the opportunity to illustrate it changed my life. After that, I started to create my own books, both words and pictures, and really it was then that I had found my true course in life.
Now, I have a question for you, Tomie. How would you describe your artistic style, and has it changed over time?
Tomie dePaola: My illustration style is heavily influenced by folk art--strong simple shapes, bold lines, color, color, color and a deceptive simplicity. My style began to develop early in art school, and through the years, it hasn’t changed very much, but it has refined itself. How would you describe yours?
Eric Carle: My aim with my work is to simplify and refine, be logical and harmonious. I like to use simple shapes, bright colors and a lot of white space. I write for the child inside of me. That is always where I begin.
Tomie dePaola: I do, as well. The only audience I keep in mind is that four-year-old in me. People sometimes ask me what advice I would give to young artists. I always think of the wonderful advice I received from my twin cousins when they were in art school in the late '30s. They told me, “Practice, practice, practice and don’t copy.”
Eric Carle: I often tell people about the four magic letters: DO IT. I want to be encouraging but I can only offer the example of my own experience, which is just one approach. There are many wonderful artists to learn about, which is important. But you must use your own imagination. You have to just do it.
Tomie dePaola: How do you feel knowing that a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is sold every 30 seconds, somewhere in the world?
Eric Carle: It is hard for me, maybe for others too, to grasp this concept. But I am truly honored that my story is enjoyed by so many and that it is now being shared by a generation of parents who grew up with my book. How about your Strega Nona. She is one of your most popular characters. Can you share how she came to be?
Tomie dePaola: In the ‘70s when I was teaching at a college, we were required to attend faculty meetings. I always sat in the back with a yellow legal pad. Everyone thought I was taking notes. At one meeting a doodle appeared of a little lady with a big nose and a big chin. I named her Strega Nona, and the rest is history. Speaking of history, how will you be celebrating the third annual Very Hungry Caterpillar Day this year?
Eric Carle: On The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day, March 20th, I will probably be at home with my wife, Bobbie (I am a bit of a hermit, actually). But I will be saying a little toast to the caterpillar for whom I have a special place in my heart. And speaking of holidays, isn’t your favorite holiday Christmas. Do you have a special Christmas memory?
Tomie dePaola: Christmas is my favorite holiday. My favorite Christmas was the one when I received tons and tons of art supplies: everything from an easel to paints, pads and pads of paper, and “how to draw” books.
A Look Inside The Very Hungry Caterpillar
(Click on Images to Enlarge)
From the Inside Flap
One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry. On Monday, he ate through one apple; on Tuesday, he ate through three plums--and still he was hungry. Strikingly bold, colorful pictures and a simple text in large, clear type tell the story of a hungry little caterpillar's progress through an amazing variety and quantity of foods. Full at last, he made a cocoon around himself and went to sleep, to wake up a few weeks later wonderfully transformed into a butterfly!
Brilliantly innovative designer and artist Eric Carle has dramatized the story of one of Nature's commonest yet loveliest marvels, the metamorphosis of the butterfly, in a picture book to delight as well as instruct the very youngest reader or listener. Cleverly die-cut pages show what the caterpillar ate on successive days, graphically introducing sets of up to 10 objects and also the names of the days of the week in rotation, as well as telling the central story of the transformation of the caterpillar. The final, double-page picture of the butterfly is a joyous explosion of color, a vibrant affirmation of the wonder and beauty of Nature.
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The different sized pages in the middle of the book (after the caterpillar pops out of his egg on Sunday morning) showing different foods with holes punched in the centers to indicate where he's nibbled through them are darling - each page is thick enough that I think I'm going to cut a caterpillar-sized piece of green pipecleaner to give him so he can watch his very own caterpillar making its way through the one red apple he eats on Monday, two green pears on Tuesday, three purple plums on Wednesday, four red strawberries on Thursday, five bright orange oranges on Friday, and then the variety of multi-colored foods (probably not a caterpillar's scientifically accurate diet, but fun!) he eats on Saturday that leads to his stomache ache - chocolate cake, ice cream cone, pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, cupcake and watermelon - goodness gracious!
On Sunday, he limits himself to one green leaf, builds his "small house, called a cocoon, around himself", stays in there for over two weeks before he emerges as a multi-colored butterfly, whose wingspan takes up the final two pages! Though we probably won't expect our grandson to comprehend the scientific term of metamorphosis, he'll certainly grasp that the caterpillar's transformation is magical - a pretty good description of the book itself!
The book itself is cute and perfect to read for babies and toddlers (repetition teaching days of the week, numbers 1-7, fruits and other foods, and life cycle). The colors are very vibrant and the book has all the little holes (about the size of a standard hole punch... you won't be able to stick your fingers through, which also means baby can't rip it). It is a solid, sturdy, proper board book with smooth finished edges that I feel comfortable having a baby touch (or even if they suck on it before you notice and pull it out of their mouth).
The plush toy is also very well constructed with no loose seems and withstands gentle tugging on the ears, legs, and colored fringy hairs (of course you always need be careful with babies and choking on anything and not let them suck on this more than a moment or unsupervised).
Unrelated, I bought a cute Eric Carle baby rattle -see my other review if you are curious.