Is there anything more rewarding than reading to a child? Get a child to engage in a ripping yarn, fire the imagination, entertain, inform and educate – it truly is one of life’s greatest pleasures.
But it’s more than that. Have you ever thought about the connections, about the threads that tie us all together, about books and reading and the associated links that cross mountain ranges and oceans, great cities and barren deserts, paying no attention to class or creed, colour or religion?
Take The Very Hungry Caterpillar for instance and just think about it differently for a moment. It’s a great book, sure. One of our favourites, a regular read, a comfort and inspiration and a familiar friend at story time. Now think about who else might feel the same, who else knows it just as well, who else takes similar pleasure in its simple tale and its vibrant illustrations. How many do you think?
At the last count, The Very Hungry Caterpillar had sold 30 million copies. Think about that number and try to picture what 30 million books would look like, all stacked up in a giant pile. How far would they reach? To the moon? Perhaps not quite, but certainly very high.
If every man, woman and child in Peru were to go out this morning and buy a book, their efforts would still total less than the number who have bought The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And 30 million is just the number of sales, not the number of people who have read – or had read to them – a story that has been a regular on the bestseller lists since it was first published in 1969.
So if 30 million books have been sold, how many people know the story? 50 million? 100 million? More? It’s impossible to quantify, but if the average book is read to two children by two parents, that would make 120 million. That’s the same as the entire population of the UK, Australia, Ghana and Cuba all added together with still a little spare.
And it will have been read in all those places and at all points in between for it has been translated into 50 languages, including Russian, Chinese, Spanish and French, over the years. It has been read by schoolchildren in Cambodia and by Presidents in the White House. Young and old, rich and poor, all know that ‘One piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss Cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon’ do not necessarily constitute a sensible and nutritious meal.
Yet Eric Carle, the artist and author behind it all, had no such grand plans when he sat down in the Sixties to begin a project at that time called Willi the Bookworm. “It was bread and butter to me,” he once said. “It paid my rent. I mean, it’s just a book”.
But it’s not just a book, is it? It’s more than that. It’s something that, 42 years on, continues to touch lives and connect even the most disparate groups. Go into a coffee shop and pick 10 random people: how many do you think know the opening line of The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Probably more than you’d have first thought.
Would the world be a different place had that colourful caterpillar never been drawn four decades ago? Perhaps imperceptibly, but for sure. It has reached too many people for it to be otherwise.
So keep reading and keep making connections because it’s these little things, these tiny strands of universal appeal, that unite us, bringing the world together and making it a smaller, happier and more understanding place.
There’s a long way to go, but the OMs are our caterpillars, inching their way across the planet. Their journey is just beginning, but slowly, surely, they’re making their way, finding, reaching, touching, and uniting.
Long may it continue, because we are all connected.