An article in the Feb. 9 Travel section incorrectly reported the Internet address for the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts. The site is at www.picturebookart.org. (Published 2/13/03)

Pooh would be so jealous.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has (or should have) a permanent place in every child's bookcase, has moved into the big time -- a museum dedicated to his life story.

In November, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art opened in Amherst, Mass., a pastoral college town that would please the insatiable insect with its orchards and farms . The institution, adjacent to Hampshire College, is named for the "Caterpillar" author, who works in nearby Northampton and spearheaded the project.

The small museum pays homage to the colorful characters who exist on the printed page and are as much a part of childhood -- and parenting -- as dolls and Legos. It also explores the process and craft of illustrating children's books, from preliminary sketches to bound books.

As Brown Bear once asked: What do you see?

Well, in one of two main galleries, I saw Mr. Brown Bear, all cubist looking with his tissue paper and acrylic fur, as well as the Grouchy Ladybug, the Mixed-Up Chameleon and Walter the Baker. Fifty-two of Carle's pictures are on display, including confetti-like collages of his menagerie. The works are simple, much like his stories, and his ideas and animals unfold frame by frame, wall by wall.

But Carle shares his space with other well-known children's authors. In a smaller room that links the two main galleries, Robert Ingpen's dark, dense pictures from "Halloween Circus at the Graveyard Lawn," part of the "Birth of the Book" exhibit, can spook even a hardened adult. A current exhibit on Nancy Ekholm Burkert features the richly detailed illustrations that have sent millions of kids into dreamland imagining that they were piloting a piece of fruit ("James and the Giant Peach") or were raised by bears ("Valentine and Orson"). Other artists who have come and gone, or are set to appear, include Maurice Sendak and Leo Lionni.

For those us who can't remember how the story goes, the museum places book-filled baskets on benches, so you can read as you view. Some kids, however, seemed more interested in whizzing the books across the polished surface than cracking them open.

Creative youngsters can also get messy in the Art Studio, where they can paint, sculpt and make collages using Carle's techniques. And a cafe offers kindergarten cuisine like PB&J, as well as adult fare like scones and soups.

"It's story time," a museum staff member announced on a late Sunday afternoon, as she wandered from room to room. "Come, we are gathering in the library."

The museum hosts frequent readings in its well-stocked library. Usually the reader is an employee. But on occasion, it's a surprise guest of note. Such as Carle himself, who, when I walked into the packed room, was sitting center stage, encircled by fans.

With his round belly and short, white beard, he was a dead ringer for Papa Smurf. In a hushed, calming voice, he told the children sitting on the floor and the adults squished into little-people furniture about his background (growing up in Germany, disliking school, loving nature). Then, he introduced his latest book, "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth."

"I was so busy with the museum, I needed to slow down," he said. "The sloth taught me that lesson."

The kids nodded in agreement, then listened with rapt attention as Carle read.

He then moved on to some of his classics, like "From Head to Toe," which prompted the children to stand up and stomp like gorillas and bend their necks like giraffes and swing their arms like monkeys. Meanwhile, every parent looked on, most likely wondering if Carle ever baby-sits.

The author ended with "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," explaining that the inspiration for his 34-year-old book came from a hole puncher and a play on the idea of bookworms. As he read, the children mouthed the words.

After the caterpillar turned into a beautiful butterfly, he shut the book, thanked the children for coming and slowly, slowly, slowly left the room.

-- Andrea Sachs

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (125 W. Bay Rd, joff Route 9, Amherst, Mass.) is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday, 12-4 p.m., Sunday. Admission $4 adult, $2 children, free under 12. Info: 413-658-1100, www.picturebook.org.