23 October 2004

That’s a lot of watermelon

by Matt Rubinstein at 9:24 am

cat.jpgI can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t be excited to learn that Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar is now 35 years old. As more of my friends are contributing to global overcrowding (but combating the ageing of the population (and they’re so cute)) I can attest to the continuing popularity of this voracious grub. The thing’s got legs! I loved it as a kid, although I must say that while I thought I was a pretty good reader, I missed the Marxist connotations completely:

Muoy You, director of the Seametrey School in Cambodia, explains: “I try to teach our children that you can always become better, but greed is not the solution. When the caterpillar is greedy he gets sick. When he is reasonable, and works hard, he feels better. In Cambodia we need this kind of message.” Eric Carle, on the other hand, remembers the words of a young East German librarian. “She said, ‘This book would never have been published here. The caterpillar represents a capitalist. He bites into every fruit, just takes one bite and he moves on, getting fatter and fatter. He’s exploiting everything.'”.

Now I wonder whether the book has anything to do with this newish problem of obesity in children. The caterpillar starts off pretty well, getting in five serves of fruit; then strays into the chocolate cake; and from then on it’s a nightmare calorie-jag of ice cream, salami and cherry pie, topped off with a self-deluding slice of guilt-melon. I know people who eat exactly like that! And I wonder whether the apparent implosion of the ALP has anything to do with the insoluble conflict between Latham’s read-to-your-kids policy and his keep-your-kids-thin policy that this book represents.

5 Responses to “That’s a lot of watermelon”

  1. Alastair Says:

    (warning: spoiler)

    He turns into a butterfly at the end. I don’t think this reinforces the anti-greed theme. In fact the opposite.

    I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that GWB likes it so much.

  2. Ben Haslem Says:


    I’d never thought of TVHC as a Marxist text!

    I read it as a little boy and now read it to my little boy.

    I’d noticed the book was “born” the same year as me.

    May I be so bold as to suggest it’s simply a book that teaches children about fruit, different types of food and colours and has cool holes they can poke their fingers into. The more food the more holes.

    GWB probably likes it for the same reasons, not coz subconsciously he thinks its promoting voracious free-market capitalsm.

  3. Ben Haslem Says:

    And it teaches them to count, too.

  4. Matt Rubinstein Says:

    I see, you’re either a pre-post- or a post-post-structuralist, are you Ben? Yes, I think probably the key to the book is the brilliant combination of form and substance, particularly the little holes. Like one of the people in the article I was also fascinated by all the different foods, since my parents were into some weird self-deprivation diet or other at the time (or they might have just been poor).

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