cover image Ten Little Caterpillars

Ten Little Caterpillars

Bill Martin Jr., illus. by Lois Ehlert. S&S/Beach Lane, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-1-4424-3385-4

Originally issued in 1967 with different illustrations, Martin's caterpillar counting rhyme has been given new life with gorgeous and bold watercolor collages from his Chicka Chicka Boom Boom collaborator, Ehlert. Readers can't be blamed for seeing this as a companion to Eric Carle's classic caterpillar tale%E2%80%94after all, the characters share membership in the Lepidoptera order and a highly stylized, vibrantly handmade aesthetic. But the similarities end there. Martin's words shape 10 vignettes, inspiring Ehlert to survey the world of backyard nature (unobtrusive labels identify flora and fauna). What's more, the 10 caterpillars are no carbon copies: each is modeled on a different species (a handsome visual glossary details feeding habits and provides examples of the butterflies or moths they eventually become). But it's the frequently unsalubrious fates of the caterpillars that are most striking. One is imprisoned in a jar ("The sixth little caterpillar was carried off to school"), three are potential meals, and only one becomes a butterfly. This is a graphically sumptuously book, but the lesson is clear: nature is one tough town. Ages 2%E2%80%936. (Aug.)