Sunday, April 26, 2009

From Bomb Shelters to Butterflies

Newsweek ran an article about Eric Carle the other day with the rather sensational title of "The Surprising Dark Side of the Very Hungry Caterpillar." Turns out it's not that dark, but like fellow picture-book guru Maurice Sendak, Carle spent a fair portion of his childhood in fear. In this case, it was the fear of a child living in WWII Germany, complete with food shortages, bomb scares, and a father locked away in a Russian prison camp. From the article:
There's even something about the way he describes the caterpillar's diet ("On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese … ") that evokes the way he describes what he ate after the war when he went to work for the Americans.
Why are we always so surprised to learn about things like this? Is it because we associate childhood with safety and optimism?

But to a child, even one in the most secure and happy home, the world is a large, mystifying, and often scary place. Maybe it's the authors that still understand this basic truth that speak to children most clearly.

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