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The Animals' Beauty Contest

The forest was buzzing with excitement. The annual beauty contest was soon to begin. The cardinal had preened his red feathers until they sparkled in the sun. He was sure that he would be the winner this year.

''All very well if you like red," sniffed the bluebird. He spread his wings and fanned out his tail.

A squirrel chattered in a nearby tree. "Feathers, indeed!" She reached around to comb out her fluffy tail for the hundredth time that day.

Down on the ground, a dull green caterpillar heard all the buzzing and twittering. "A beauty contest!" she thought. "Oh, how I would love to win!" She crawled along the ground on her short, stubby legs, and then humped quickly up the stem of a plant.

Dreamily she swayed the front half of her body back and forth, away from the green stalk of the plant.

The cardinal spotted the movement down below and swooped down to catch himself a meal. "Don't eat me!" shrieked the caterpillar, ducking under a leaf. "I'm going to enter the animals' beauty contest."

"You in a beauty contest?" chirped the cardinal. He laughed so hard he turned a somersault in the air. "What would you want to enter the beauty contest for? You're not a bit beautiful." And he was still laughing as he flew away.

"I am beautiful, I am," the caterpillar called after him. "Don't you think I'm beautiful?" she asked the squirrel, who was scampering by with a nut in her mouth.

"Fur is what's beautiful," said the squirrel. "You haven't a chance in the contest. Just look at my fine tail." And she swished her tail back and forth, so hard that she knocked the caterpillar right off the plant.

"Oh," moaned the caterpillar. "Nobody thinks I'm beautiful. What am I going to do?" She nibbled at a leaf that had broken off the plant when the squirrel knocked her down. And because she couldn't think of anything better to do, she kept on eating. She finished the leaf, and then she crawled up one plant and down another, eating away. She crunched up one leaf after another. Her plump body got fatter and fatter. Soon her skin was stretched out tight like a balloon. If she ate one more leaf, she would burst.

And she did burst! Her skin split right down the middle and opened up just like a zipper. There was a new skin underneath. It was soft and shining. It was pale at first, but soon it darkened to a bright green with black and white and orange spots.

The caterpillar sighed with pleasure. "Now I really am beautiful!" And off she crawled to the clearing in the forest where the beauty contest was just starting.

A wave of chirping and twittering and chattering swept through the animals of the audience when the spotted caterpillar appeared. The caterpillar raised her head. Were they cheering? No, they were -- they were laughing at her!

"But I'm beautiful!" she cried.

"You?" chattered the squirrel.

"You?" twittered the bluebird.

"Whoo, you?" hooted the wise old owl, who was judging the contest. "You look like a clown."

Sadly the little caterpillar crawled away, deep into the forest. She did not even care who would win the beauty contest. "There is nothing in the world for me," she thought. "I wish I were dead."

She scooped out a little hole in the ground and curled up in it. She lay there, without moving, and a hard shell formed around her body. She seemed to be dead indeed. Months went by. Dead leaves covered the caterpillar's body, and then the winter snows covered them with a blanket of white.

The warm spring sun melted the snows and softened the hard ground. Winds blew the covering of dead leaves away. Down in the hollow in the ground, the hard little shell stirred, and then cracked open. But where was the spotted caterpillar? The creature who wriggled out had large wings, which soon grew bright and shining in the warmth of the sun. She spread her wings and fluttered up into the air.

The animals that saw her flutter by caught their breaths and whispered, "Oh, what a beautiful butterfly!" Even the birds were jealous of her sparkling wings.

The owl, wakened from his nap, opened one eye and then the other. Whoo," he called. "I know who will win the beauty contest this year!"


©1972, 2013 The Silversteins