My Uncle Ate My Caterpillar by Amie Guzzardi

★★★★  In My Uncle Ate My Caterpillar by Amie Guzzardi, a young girl spies a very dapper caterpillar while traipsing around her garden. Later, when her uncle comes to visit, she asks him to close his eyes so she can share a surprise with him—the very same caterpillar she holds in such high esteem. But her uncle, still with his eyes closed, throws the insect straight into his mouth and swallows it whole! He soon begins to change color to a sickly green, and his niece tells him to eat some leaves so the caterpillar will have food on its journey through his digestive tract. For the time being, uncle and caterpillar cohabit the same body, and the young girl is hopeful that her uncle will someday become a handsome butterfly himself.

Guzzardi’s story is the Surrealist answer to Eric Carle’s classic children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The question is not What did the caterpillar eat? but What ate the caterpillar? With vivid, even somewhat grotesque art, Guzzardi tells a tightly formulated tale that simultaneously charms and perplexes the reader. It’s quite clever, leaning into the oddity of such a deceptively simple idea. Guzzardi has a great deal of confidence in young readers’ ability to appreciate weird stories, and that’s commendable, especially in an age when authors and illustrators seem to be churning out bland children’s stories that feature the same ursine, or porcine, or leporine protagonists. One can easily imagine a sequel slotting in nicely with the goofy but gratifying story Guzzardi has written here.