CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 8 . . . . December 9, 2005
Stories about underdogs abound in children's literature, and this little gem will have children cheering Mr. Caterpillar on as he perseveres through one mishap after another. Like the tortoise who bests the hare or The Little Engine that Could, he slowly and steadily moves through the book with endearing determination and finally achieves his goal.
Blown onto a gentleman's hat and then flipped onto a lady's shoulder, Mr. Caterpillar ends up on a crowded train where he is noticed and chased. Frightened but resolved to escape, he makes an heroic effort and does eventually manage to get back outside to safety, but not before additional discoveries jeopardize his freedom. It's an emotional ride, but, because of the sing-songy rhythm of the text, children will not be overwhelmed with the dangers he encounters. Instead, they will be charmed and lulled with the recurring repetition of "bit by bit" and the other repeated phrases like "rushing and hurrying" or "swaying and dreaming," which serve to slow the reading pace while reinforcing the nature of a caterpillar's movements. Nejime, who has won awards in his native Japan, has not reduced his vocabulary to preschool reading levels but chooses natural language with a poetic cadence that is designed to be read aloud.
This first book for illustrator Heather Castles aptly conveys the relative small size of the caterpillar while her humans all have big balloon bodies. She employs perspective to good use, from ordinary close-ups of the little insect on a hat or pant cuff, to a bird's-eye view of the action on the train, to zoomed-in close-ups that illustrate his vulnerability in relation to a large shoe bearing down. The welcome relief of the conclusion is mirrored in the final picture where the caterpillar is snuggled into a leaf like a child in a sleeping bag and is complemented by the enormous and colourful butterfly of his dreams on the facing page.
Allison Mews is the Director of the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. John’s, NL.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.