The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle was originally published in 1969 and is a true classic book for children. It was the first book that we bought for my eldest when I was pregnant with him and it has been read and re-read countless numbers of times. We have a lot of love for this book and reviewed it here including some of our caterpillar related activities too.
It is such a wonderful story; bright colours, counting, days of the week and labelling food items are all perfect to engage little ones in finding out more about the world and interacting with books. The flaps and little holes in the pages where the caterpillar has munched through the foods provide lovely opportunities for play whilst you’re reading. My one year old likes to poke his fingers through them while I pretend to nibble them from the other side with my fingers, it always makes him laugh!
As well as the English version of this book (published by Puffin) being the first book my son owned, the Hebrew edition we have (published by Sifriat Poalim Publishing House) is the first Hebrew book he owned.
Being Jewish, Hebrew is a huge part of our lives and although we aren’t fluent in it it is important that we learn to read it and understand some of it too.
I have seen lots of bilingual books where the English text runs alongside the text in another language, I think these are a great way to introduce languages and strengthen existing languages spoken. With Hebrew however, I try and get hold of copies of books that are just in Hebrew to help my children learn about the direction of the language. Hebrew is written and read from right to left, having books just in Hebrew means that the books needs to be opened from the right. If both languages were in the same book then the book would need to favour the direction of one or the other.
As you can see in the picture above, the books are mirror images of each other as they depend on the direction of the respective language.
This story is a perfect introduction to Hebrew (or any language) for children; the story is so well known and easy to follow even before any real language acquisition. In the case of my four year old I found he quickly learnt the names of fruit and foods in Hebrew from reading this book with me.
As language skills develop we can look back at these books and start to compare them and notice subtle differences. One thing I noticed with The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the days of the week are not the same in the English and Hebrew versions. In the English version, the caterpillar pops out of the egg on Sunday and starts his feast with one apple on Monday. In the Hebrew version, the caterpillar hatches on Saturday and eats one apple on Sunday. I would imagine this is because a Jewish week begins on a Sunday as our Sabbath day is Saturday, whereas in English speaking countries that are predominantly Christian the Sabbath day is Sunday and the week begins on Monday.
In fact, the word for Sunday in Hebrew – יום ראשון (pronounced yom rishon) literally translates as “first day”. So it makes perfect sense for the caterpillar to eat one apple on the first day. The rest of the days follow this pattern and this is something else that we can pick out to discuss as my boys’ knowledge of Hebrew grows.
I always like to read your comments and I’d love to hear your thoughts on introducing or strengthening second languages through books, stories or games. Do you have any favourites or recommendations?