“In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.” Read it aloud. Feel it trip off the tongue. It’s one of the great opening lines in modern literature. If you were born in the past 50 years, there’s a reasonable chance it was the start of your very first book.

Since it was published in June 1969, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle has become one of the most popular children’s books of all time. Somewhere in the world, a copy is sold every 15 seconds; a stage adaptation has been seen by almost a million children; and, just two weeks ago, a species of spider was named after Carle for its resemblance to his book’s hero.

It all started with a hole-punch. “I was punching holes into a stack of paper, and I thought of a bookworm,” Carle tells me from his home in the Florida Keys. “And so I created a story called A Week with Willi the Worm.” His editor wasn’t too keen. “[She] suggested a caterpillar and I said ‘Butterfly!’ And the rest is history.”

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