Recently, in a post introducing the idea of S.M.A.G. (Society of Mutual Admiration and Gratitude), I reflected upon my blogging journey and the gradual growth of readership and development of a S.M.A.G. over time. With this reflection came the realisation that many have missed earlier posts. That realisation, along with a comment by Sarah Brentyn, prompted me to share a few of my favourites.
The first posts I will revisit are from a series about using Eric Carle’s picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar for educational purposes in an early childhood setting.
The series of four posts;
- explores benefits of reading picture books to children
- questions the place of factual information in fictional texts, and
- suggests the importance of teaching critical literacy from a young age.
I will provide a brief overview of each post. I would be delighted to have you follow the links to read the posts in full.
Searching for meaning in a picture book — Part A
In this post I explained that sharing picture books with children has many benefits, including:
- It can help strengthen the parent-child bond, becoming a special time of togetherness and of sharing stories and ideas.
- It has a very positive effect upon their learning, helping them develop language, knowledge of print and books, and exposes them to new ideas and concepts.
In early childhood classrooms, The Very Hungry Caterpillar provides opportunities for work in many subject areas including:
- Literature appreciation
- Visual arts, and
- Philosophical inquiry, but not Science (as I will explain later)
Searching for purpose in a picture book – Part B
In this post I discuss some purposes for using picture books and raise some questions about their content.
A sampling of purposes:
- encourages a love of reading and books
- develops vocabulary and knowledge of language
- provides a link between the language of home and the language used in the wider community and in education
- supports beginning readers
- inspires imagination
- provides opportunities to discuss feelings, emotions, ideas, responses
- develops feelings of empathy, identification, recognition, hope
- instils an appreciation of art
Do fictional picture books have a role, and do picture book authors have a responsibility, in imparting factual information in their books?
Does it matter:
- that, although lions don’t live in jungles, they are often referred to as “King of the jungle” and appears in that setting in many stories?
- if animals that don’t co-exist, for example penguins and polar bears, appear in stories together?
- if the portrayal of animals in stories is not anatomically correct, for example spiders shown with legs joined to their abdomens rather than cephalothoraxes?
Do errors such as these influence children’s understanding of the world?
How should adults handle the misinformation when sharing books with children?
Searching for truth in a picture book – Part C
In this post I refer specifically to inaccuracies in The Very Hungry Caterpillar and the pervasiveness of the misconceptions, if not totally attributable to the book, then at least in part. I suggest how acknowledging the inaccuracy can help develop critical literacy.
In his book Eric Carle writes that
“He (the caterpillar) built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and . . . he was a beautiful butterfly!”
However, as this (hopefully correct) information from the Australian Museum shows, butterflies do not spin cocoons around themselves. Moths do. Some butterflies and skippers do form a silken shelter, but not a cocoon as in Carle’s picture book.
Unfortunately many articles found in an internet search share the same misinformation. I wonder how many adults grew up believing what Carle shared through his picture books. Even teachers have been surprised to learn that butterfly caterpillars do not spin cocoons.
In the original post I share some lovely videos related to butterfly and moth metamorphosis. It is worth taking a peek at them.
Does it matter if children (and adults) think that butterflies hatch out of cocoons? Eric Carle didn’t seem to think so. Do you?
Finding power in a picture book – the main event
In this post I argue that The Very Hungry Caterpillar has no place in a science lesson because of the misinformation contained therein: caterpillars do not eat many different foods and butterflies do not come out of cocoons.
The greatest value of the book is as a tool for teaching critical literacy; for teaching children that just because something is in print, doesn’t make it true. It is also important to realise that misinformation is not restricted to picture books, and that they need to question all sources of information for the author’s credentials and purpose in writing.
I suggest that teachers and parents:
- point out inaccuracies and inconsistencies
- encourage children to evaluate what they are reading and hearing against what they already know
- support children to verify the source of the information and to check it against other more authoritative/reliable sources
- help children to recognise that every author has a purpose and to identify that purpose
- invite children to ask questions about what they are reading and to interrogate the content
- encourage them to question, question, question.
Eric Carle says “If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can’t a caterpillar (sic) come out of a cocoon?”
What do you think? Do picture book authors have a responsibility to be accurate? Is a butterfly coming out of a cocoon in the same realm as giants tied down by dwarfs? Would we accept a child hatching out of an egg? What parts of a story should be based in reality and which parts can be imagined?
“Why can’t a butterfly come out of a cocoon?” asks Eric.
Well, Eric, they just don’t.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any of issues I have raised in these posts.