Here in our very wooded corner of northern New Jersey, caterpillars have been literally thick on the ground these past few weeks. It happens each year around this time- their gauzy tents appear in the trees. Soon they begin to break free and can be found, fat, hairy, and surprisingly quick, on any and all surfaces. Everywhere we go, I hear parents saying, "Leave them outside" and "Not in the car!" They're talking about the fistfuls and Dixie cups filled with writhing caterpillars. My own children collected 14 in a matter of minutes at a recent teeball game. In about a week, they will be gone, turned into moths or butterflies or smooshes on the bottoms of sneakers. We won't see them for another year. In the meantime, we can content ourselves with our three favorite literary invertebrates, a caterpillar, an inchworm, and an earthworm. One is very hungry, one is very clever, and one is very human.
Of course the go to caterpillar book is Eric Carle's classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Oh, how we have loved this book! Clearly many other readers have as well, judging from the toys, card game, baby clothing line, and other products inspired by it. Educationally, it is a gold mine, teaching the days of the week, counting, and the process of metamorphosis. It's also just a delightful read. I have yet to meet a child who does not love the list of foods the very hungry caterpillar eats on that fateful Saturday. And, of course, they all love when he turns into a beautiful butterfly in the end.
Also on the list of invertebrates we love is the very clever green inchworm protagonist of Leo Lionni's Inch by Inch. Inchworm as underdog. He outwits the vain nightingale and saves his own neck in the process.
Finally, for school age children is the baseball cap wearing earthworm in Doreen Cronin's Diary of a Worm. The entries are fresh and witty as are Harry Bliss' illustrations. My children particularly enjoy the worm's June 15 diary entry which reads, "My older sister thinks she's so pretty. I told her that no matter how much time she spends looking in the mirror, her face will always look just like her rear end. Spider thought that was really funny. Mom did not."