Author Sean Browne uses a gloriously illustrated children’s picture book to impart a lesson on love and community.
Sean Browne fell into the production of his children’s picture book, The Very Loving Caterpillar, in an unusual way. He was actually looking to make a film around caterpillars and butterflies, and it was only after a suggestion from a co-worker, that he decided to expand the concept into a book. With a passion for using a combination of science and entertainment to inspire greater thinking around humanity, his book is rather unique.
The Very Loving Caterpillar – Story Overview
In a warm, tropical land, a community of caterpillars live together making the most of what their environment gives them. With plenty to eat and lots of shelter, they are free to enjoy life and create things together. However, when the weather changes, tough times arrive. Their food source disappears, their shelter blows away, and their antennae freeze, rendering communication impossible. With that, fear and frustration fall on the community. Desperate to save its family, the central “very loving” caterpillar goes to a quiet place to ponder what can be done.
Feeling helpless it falls into a deep sleep in which it has a vision about becoming a butterfly. So it forms a cocoon, and shortly emerges in its new butterfly form capable of flying away to warmer climates. Before it leaves, however, it returns to its community and use its wings to warm the other caterpillars so the ice melts off their antennae, allowing them to communicate, form cocoons and fly off together as butterflies.
The Very Loving Caterpillar – Book Review
There isn't much in the way of adventure in The Very Loving Caterpillar – it’s not that kind of book. The tale is focused on its mission to impart a message about love, using tough times as a vehicle to show how communities can fall apart. This falls in line with Browne’s desire to “educate and inspire,” but it’s good to know that going in. Personally I think the word choice is a bit strong – especially on the reiteration of keywords like love, harmony and community – and I would have liked to have seen a bit less message and bit more story. There is also some religious connotations here that may put off some readers who don’t agree with its use in children’s books.
That said, for parents seeking an opportunity to pass on strong community values to their children, it hits the mark. And the general concepts of using the frozen antennae as a means of exploring what happens when communication is lost, and also the concept of changing one’s attitude so you can take flight to a better life, are strong.
The art, by illustrator Doan Trang, is incredible, too: I love it. Bright, colourful and evocative, it focuses right in on the caterpillars’ point-of-view. Sparing brushstrokes and vivid weather effects make each page a rich experience, and the tonal change when the transition from caterpillar to butterfly arrives, is effective and warming. Smartly, The Very Loving Caterpillar gives its art plenty of space to shine as well.
The Very Loving Caterpillar – Technical Review
The Very Loving Caterpillar opts for a square layout, with synchronized – rather than connected – images on each facing page. Text only appears on one of the two facing pages, and is placed on the art using an easy-to-read font. I really like this approach. The art is so good that this design allows it to take a strong lead in telling the story. No single page feels over-balanced by text, either. The decision to allow the art on each page to function independently of the next works in the book's favour. It allows it to work across printed and digital formats without requiring a specific redesign.
Sean Browne’s The Very Loving Caterpillar may be a little too transparent in the way it moralises its message for some, but its core concepts and fantastic art ensure it remains memorable.
Where to Next?
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