The Caterpillar… Makes Holes?

La Chenille

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, is a superstar of children’s literature. Right up there with Goodnight, Moon. It has it all: a cute main character, brilliant transformation, the days of the week, lots of food.

Naturally it’s been translated into many languages so all the children of the world can enjoy it.

Let’s be honest. This translation is a bit holey. I’m reading a book for 4 year olds because that’s the level my French is at, so I need, and was hoping for, a faithful translation. But the title has nothing to do with hunger. It has to do with making holes.

Why? Why not say the caterpillar is hungry ~ “La chenille a faim”? Some things are always going to get lost in translation. Why make holes where a faithful alternative exists?

Confession: I read the title, La Chenille qui fait des trous, and stupidly (arrogantly?) just assumed it meant “hungry.” But then I started to read, and it didn’t make sense. Right there in the text was the word faim, and I knew that had to mean hungry. (Like famished.) It was only then that I looked up the meaning of trous. 

Holes.

Eric Carle’s amazing artwork and understated writing deserve to be exported all over the globe, but this heavy-handed translation puts holes in a classic. However, it is one of only a dozen French language books available in our local library, so I’m thankful for it even if it’s not wholly satisfying.

I intend to eat it up, holes and all.

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