The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

My Daughter Calls Out Eric Carle March 14, 2010

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

Fairy Flight
Tracy Cane

The Rave: The Very Hungry Caterpillar one of those classically, well-proportioned children’s books that hits all the right notes:

  1. It teaches counting, as the steadily increasing numbers of fruit consumed by the caterpillar in question are tallied, using the tactile experience of actual holes in the pages, pictured as those eaten through each fruit – children love sticking their fingers through
  2. The contrast between the junk food – sausages and ice cream – that causes a tummy ache and the nice, green leaf that makes the caterpillar feel better promotes healthy eating
  3. The fact that the caterpillar still is nice and fat and becomes a butterfly even though it didn’t always choose the best sorts of food translates to a lesson that doesn’t chide, but shows how the learning process causes growth and change, not repudiation
  4. What a nice happy ending, a lovely butterfly. What a great story. Very satisfying. And the board game is fun for little ones, too.
  5. Also nice that in this story, Big is Beautiful.

The Problem: Eric Carle, yes, the Great Eric Carle, got his biology wrong.

My 4-year-old daughter identified this to me last week.

“That’s not a butterfly,” she said, when we got to the last page.

“Sorry?” I said, wondering if we were in some imaginary scheme all of a sudden (that can happen with this age group). “I’m pretty sure it is.”

“It came out of a cocoon,” Jo pointed out. “Only moths come out of cocoons. Butterflies have chrysalises. So it’s a moth.”

And yes. She is right. Eric Carle writes that the caterpillar makes a cocoon. And: according to Wikipedia and other sources, moths and maybe some other insects make cocoons. But butterflies – yep. Chrysalis all the way.

Dang, dude.

I have to say, we do read a lot of books featuring butterflies. Fairy Flight, a favorite with my kids right now, follows monarch caterpillars as they weave chrysalises, change to butterflies, and travel from Canada to California. I find the fact that the little girls in the book think butterflies are fairies or vice versa – and the images suggest this may be so – annoying – anthropomorphizing a creature in order to celebrate its wonder seems so egocentric –  but the story covers a wide landscape of imagery and science, geography and fantasy, and along with a couple other nonfiction books we have, obviously schooled my daughter in a few facts some adults – me and Eric, at least – didn’t know.

Dear Reader, Some Questions:

  • Have you or has your child ever found a factual error in a children’s book? How do you deal with it? Write the author a letter? Do we think Eric knows he made a mistake by now?
  • What do you think about fairies? I’ve always considered them harmless preschool lore (maybe not sexyified Tinkerbell). But they do point to a belief system that nature occurs only through tiny humanoids making things work – which a very religious person might find objectionable, but so does a person like me, who wants my kids to be able to see nature as working without magic at all…
  • Do boys get into fairies? Why just girls?

Funny how some very tiny books can bring out some very big questions!


Good Books by Demi February 22, 2010

Yes, this is a rebuttal to Amy’s post about Rumi by Demi.  While I agree that particular book is not so great for kids, one should not write Demi off completely.  We own two books by her, The Empty Pot and Liang and the Magic Paintbrush.  Both of these are wonderful stories that teach children about morals and integrity without being too preachy.  Both stories are adaptations of Chinese folk-tales.  Demi’s illustrations look like ancient paintings on silk.  They have the look and feel of authentic Chinese art.

We also have a book of poetry illustrated by Demi.  The poems are all about insects and feature a variety of poets from Rumi to Shakespeare.  The illustrations are vibrant and iridescent.  The insects are more beautiful on the pages than they are in reality.

So, please , read Demi’s books to your children.