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Happy birthday, hungry caterpillar!

March 20, 2009 |  8:08 am

Hungrycaterpillar

Eric Carle's "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" celebrates its 40th birthday this week, and Google is pitching in with a caterpillar-themed logo today (above right). The L.A. Times Festival of Books is celebrating in its own way: This year's logo (above left) is a pupae reading a version of the caterpillar book (maybe its own memoir?).

"The Very Hungry Caterpillar," who eats his way through the book, leaving a trail of holes behind, has sold 29 million copies and has licensing deals, Newsweek reports, of $50 million annually. With the money, Carle established the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass.; its exhibits have celebrated works by Dorothy Kunhardt ("Pat the Bunny"), Arnold Lobel ("Frog and Toad") and Maurice Sendak ("Where the Wild Things Are").

Carle was born in New York in 1929 to German parents; the family moved back to Germany in 1935. Carle's father was conscripted and sent off to fight; Carle, Newsweek writes, "developed a special bond at school with his art teacher, Herr Krauss, who secretly showed him the works of Picasso, Matisse and Braque, all banned by Hitler." At the end of the war, Carle worked as a file clerk for American services in Germany; he had access to their well-stocked kitchen. Newsweek draws parallels between the young man who raided that larder and the caterpillar with the insatiable appetite.

As for Carle, he thinks of it differently. "It is a book about hope. If you're an insignificant caterpillar, you can grow up to be a big butterfly in the world," he told Newsweek. In a video on his website to celebrate the book's 40th anniversary, he says "growing up can be very difficult --  it's a big secret, it's a big challenge for children -- I like to help the children along." The video also includes film of Carle at work, creating his famous caterpillar for the camera.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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