According to the publisher Penguin Random House, somebody somewhere around the world buys a copy of Eric Carle’s children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, once every 30 seconds. Last year was the book’s 50th(!) anniversary, so there’s a very good chance you, or the children you know and love, have read it …perhaps hundreds of times. If you’re one of the millions of young or young-at-heart people who’ve flipped through the variably sized, hole-punched pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the keys to its enduring popularity are clear: vivid colors; joyful, childlike art; a simply told tale of growing up and becoming something amazing.
For educators, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is all of these things and more. It, like all of Carle’s work, offers itself as a complement to subjects across the curriculum. By listening to or reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, young children can learn about and practice colors, numbers, days of the week, new vocabulary words, the differences between fact and fiction, and even nutrition (who can’t relate to the caterpillar’s experience of a tummy ache after a weekend junk food binge?). As the best educational books and experiences do, it teaches something without the kids even realizing they’re learning.
At Selby Gardens, we love the VHC for its elementary life science lessons! It’s not just a delightful story about one little caterpillar; it very neatly introduces the life cycle of butterflies and the process of metamorphosis. Students in lower elementary grades are studying life cycles, beginning to learn about interdependence, and honing their observation skills to learn about the natural world. The VHC gently introduces these concepts, and when students visit the Gardens, we can then take what we’ve learned from the book and find real life examples in our butterfly garden. It’s really exciting to find all four of these stages of a butterfly amongst the plants, and for the kids to use their new science vocabulary to identify them.
With a focus on literacy as well as science, the VHC is a perfect literary piece to build the skills and confidence of emerging readers. As a staple in so many homes classrooms, the VHC is a book kids may have listened to and recited along with their caregivers and teachers. The novelty of the design of the book itself, the fun story, simple language, and vibrant artwork lends itself to repeated readings. By reciting a familiar story along with an adult, students begin to recognize spelling
patterns, build phonological awareness and can recount things like story structure. Plus, kids are fascinated by butterflies, and books about topics they know and enjoy are great motivators for emerging or reluctant readers.
If you’d like to know more about how we connect science and literacy, check out the next issue of our Tropical Dispatch, in your mailbox soon!