Celebrating 50 Years of The Very Hungry Caterpillar™

Posted by Molly Goodall on

 A small egg lay on a leaf Very Hungry Caterpillar

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.”

     Few opening lines conjure such instant memories of childhood as these from Eric Carle’s beloved classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  First published in 1969, the colorful story of a ravenous little caterpillar munching his way through the week remains as popular today as when it was originally written, three generations and 49 million copies later.

     At Little Goodall we are thrilled to partner with World of Eric Carle to celebrate this golden anniversary. Each month, in addition to releasing our World of Eric Carle™ + Little Goodall ™ collections, we’ll be sharing fascinating details about Carle’s literary legacy and inspiring new ways to introduce creativity, discovery, and play into your children’s everyday activities.


Eric Carle with The Very Hungry Caterpillar 50th Anniversary Edition

Eric Carle with the 50th Anniversary Golden Edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar


The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle

From Caterpillar to Butterfly

     Eric Carle was born in Syracuse New York in 1929 to German immigrant parents Johanna and Erich Carle. He remembers a happy childhood there, with glorious “sun filled rooms, large sheets of paper, colorful paints and big fat brushes.” But his mother was desperately homesick, so the Carle family moved back to Germany when he was just six. Four years later WWII began and his father was drafted into the army and soon missing in action.

     During this tumultuous time Eric benefited from a kind teacher who shared art with him that was forbidden under Nazi rule, including Expressionist and Abstract art like Klee, Matisse, and Picasso. It was a move that could have landed his teacher, Herr Kraus, in jail. Still, Kraus took the risk and inspired a child who would in turn inspire millions of other children for decades to come.

Eric Carle with his parents Johanna and Erich in the Black Forest, 1939

Young Eric with his parents Johanna and Erich Carle in the Black Forest, 1939

     As he grew up, Carle maintained a clear focus on moving back to his beloved America, and at the age of 23 made his way back to New York City with nothing but $40 in his pocket and a portfolio of his artwork. After landing a job at the New York Times as a graphic designer, he eventually became an art director at an ad agency.

     Little did Eric know that again the trajectory of his life would change when his friend Bill Martin asked if he might be interested in illustrating a children’s book. Martin had seen an illustration of a red lobster that Carle created for an ad, and suspected he might be a good fit for his project. The resulting collaboration, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? became a best seller and was the catalyst that set Carle on the path to the 70 children’s books he has written to date. Of this experience, Carle notes, “I couldn’t describe exactly what it was, but it was something that set me on fire.”

Original Eric Carle artwork for Brown Bear, Brown Bear What do you See?

Original collage by Eric Carle for Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?

 The observant brown bear was quickly followed by a train full of animals in 1,2,3 to the Zoo and then The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ in 1969.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar children's book by Eric Carle

First edition cover of The Very Hungry Caterpillar™, 1969

“The secret of Eric Carle’s books’ appeal lies in his intuitive understanding of and respect for children, who sense in him instinctively someone who shares their most cherished thoughts and emotions.” 

     Carle’s illustrations are both timeless and instantly recognizable. Each is created through a multi-step process where he makes colored “tissues” by painting on paper and inscribing textures into the wet paint. These tissues are then cut into bold shapes which are then collaged together to create the final artwork.

     The various textures layered on clean white backgrounds form pictures that are easily recognized by young children and easily reproduced as books. It’s a process similar to the way many children experience their first artistic endeavors, through finger painting. We are excited to share projects for little ones inspired by these techniques throughout the year here on the Little Goodall Blog.

Eric Carle creates a painted tissue to use for collage  Eric Carle demonstrates making a collage from colored tissues

Eric Carle demonstrating his collage process: painting the tissue and then cutting and gluing pieces to create a picture

painted collage tissues created by Eric Carle

An assortment of Carle's painted tissues, waiting to be cut for collage 


The Caterpillar that Circles the Globe

      The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into 70 languages, and is associated with healthy eating and learning about nature in cultures around the world.  A copy of the book is purchased every 30 seconds!

Brown Bear Brown Bear What do you see? Kids 

Here’s a snapshot of how children from different countries experience The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ in fun and creative ways today:

     In Japan, visitors made reservations months in advance to experience The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ Café, where each plate of food is beautifully arranged to resemble an illustration from the book. 

Artful eating at Eric Carle Cafe Tokyo Japan

Artful dining at Hara Peko Ao Mushi Cafe in Tokyo, Japan


     In the United Kingdom, over 110,500 children have wiggled in conga lines participating in The Giant Wiggle.  The annual event enables kids to help kids by raising money for disadvantaged children in partnership with the Action for Children Charity. The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ is the #1 most read children’s book in the UK.

Charity Action for Children has joined forces with The World of Eric Carle to launch the campaign to get the county's children’s centres, nurseries and groups for under-fives to host a Giant Wiggle event.

Kids in England have fun each year developing agility, and coordination while raising funds to help others in Giant Wiggle Week each May.


     In Germany, parents can pick up brochures at doctors’ and midwives’ offices featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ to learn about healthy eating and child care in Milupa's “First 1000 Days” campaign.

Milupa First 1000 Days


  In China, families flocked to Nanfeng City in Shanghai to experience The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ pop-up event, featuring an amazing caterpillar climbing structure and a variety of Very Hungry Caterpillar™ themed activities.

Very Hungry Caterpillar Nanfeng City (The Place) Shanghai

The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ Pop-up, Nanfeng City, Shanghai

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle Butterfly

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art 

Carle Museum Amherst Mass

“Children’s picture book art is the introduction to art for young people, and we wanted to show the highest examples of that art to demonstrate the beauty, the seriousness and the fun of it.” – Eric Carle


     In 2002, Eric and his wife Bobbie opened the non-profit Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, with a mission to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books.

Eric Carle Museum Gallery

     The museum is a fantastic place for people of all ages to visit, with rotating exhibits throughout the year and daily programs and events for all ages. A must-see is The Very Hungry Caterpillar Turns 50, currently on display in the west gallery through March 24. The exhibit celebrates the book’s journey from humble beginnings to its iconic status today. 

     Also of note is an inspiring workshop for teachers titled Across the Curriculum with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where Carle educators are joined by colleagues from The Museum of Science, Boston, to demonstrate how the iconic text can be used in curriculum.

“A leading advocate in its field, The Carle collects, preserves, presents, and celebrates picture books and picture book illustrations from around the world. In addition to underscoring the cultural, historical, and artistic significance of picture books and their art form, The Carle offers educational programs that provide a foundation for arts integration and literacy.” – from https://www.carlemuseum.org/content/mission

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Birthday Cake

Join the Celebration! Birthday Events Near You

     The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ has an action-packed birthday year planned, and he wants you at his party! To learn about events for children and families throughout 2019 bookmark this page: 

 The Very Hungry Caterpillar's™ 50th Birthday 

     Events will be added and updated frequently, so visit often! 

A special note for our friends in Texas - the Very Eric Carle: A Very Hungry, Quiet, Clumsy, Lonely, Busy Exhibit is at the Mayborn Museum in Waco Texas now through May 12 2019! It's a brilliant play-and-learn journey of discovery the whole family will enjoy. 

Very Eric Carle at the Mayborn Museum Waco Texas

 Very Eric Carle: A Very Hungry, Quiet, Clumsy, Lonely, Busy Exhibit

The Very Hungry Caterpillar™ on Social Media

     Inspired to have a Very Hungry Caterpillar birthday party of your own?  Check out our Very Hungry Caterpillar™ Pinterest Boards for the latest and cutest party ideas on the internet! 

On Instagram, follow @worldericcarle, @carlemuseum, and @officialericcarle for the latest news and events, and use the hashtag #theveryhungrycaterpillar to show us how you’re celebrating this historic year. 

And of course, shop the entire

World of Eric Carle™ + Little Goodall Collection online! 

The Very Hungry Caterpillar cupcake 

™ & © 2019 Eric Carle LLC. All Rights Reserved  

 ©2019 Eric Carle LLC. ERIC CARLE, THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, WORLD OF ERIC CARLE logo, the Caterpillar logo and related designs, logos and names are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of Eric Carle LLC. All rights reserved. "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" is published by Penguin Group (USA).


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