Eric Carle is one of the best-known and loved of picture book creators. His work is immediately recognisable through his vibrant use of colour and tissue-paper collage. Eric Carle’s most famous book is, of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Born: Syracuse, New York, 1929
Jobs: Art Director, Commercial
Lives: Divides his time between the Florida Keys and the hills of North Carolina, USA
First Book: Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr, 1967
Eric Carle was born of German parents. He was always drawn to America after his family moved to Stuttgart when he was six. Carle’s childhood years in Germany were traumatic; as an adult he would make “books for the child in me, books I had longed for.” It is no surprise that his style is characterised by an explosive use of colour. During the war, his art teacher showed him his hidden collection of banned “degenerate” art, including works by Picasso, Klee and Matisse. At 16, Carle began studying graphic art at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart. Returning to New York in 1952, Carle built a successful career in advertising. In the mid 1960s, Carle decided to give up this career to become an illustrator and graphic designer. His first published work appeared in a cookery book. Soon afterwards, children’s book author Bill Martin asked him to illustrate the manuscript of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? The resulting book was an instant hit. Encouraged by this success, Carle began submitting ideas for his own books. One of these was “Willie The Worm”. His editor suggested that a caterpillar might prove a more endearing character – the rest is history.
First published in 1969, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has sold over 29 million copies in more than 47 languages. Eric Carle has illustrated more than seventy books, and more than 88 million copies of his books have sold around the world.
WHAT HE SAYS…
“Education is one element of my books. The success of my books, I think is also due to their emotional impact. Caterpillar, for instance, is a book of hope. It says that you too – an ugly, little thing – will open your wings and fly. Kids who are insecure and young identify with that.”
“Even as a small child I was curious about animals… This love of and curiosity about ants, beetles, salamanders, and worms had been awakened in me by my father. He’d take me on walks through meadows and woods, and explain, as we explored, the often peculiar life cycles of these small creatures that we had discovered underneath a rock or dead leaf. Afterward he carefully put the little animals back into their original places and covered them up again.”
“Thinking about a book, writing and illustrating, is like designing a house and laying the bricks. Designing the book or refining the idea is the hardest part and takes up most of my whole attention. Illustrating is the bricklaying. Less time goes into the actual pictures. I spent two years thinking about Do You Want To Be My Friend? And I finished all the illustrations in one weekend.”
“I create my own coloured tissue papers by painting white tissue papers in all kinds of colours and textures.”
“For me, leaving the warmth of home to go to school was traumatic. It occurs to me that I am still trying to make that first step from home to school easier… Some of my books have holes, cutouts, flaps to lift, or a raised, touchable surface. They are half toy (home) and half book (school).”
WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT ERIC CARLE…
“An expert in teaching fun.” Junior Bookshelf
“Carle’s ability to tap into the reservoir of intense feeling we experience as children is the ineffable gift that has made his work an enduring favourite with his audience.” Publishers Weekly
“Carle’s books all have an educational element – they teach about animals, numbers, colours and nature – but a big part of their appeal is that they are not didactic or laboured, but light and entertaining. There’s warmth and humour there too.” Junior
“I have never tired yet of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Child Education
“The lyrical text illustrated in Carle’s individual and immediately recognisable style, moves to a moment of pure astonishment that touches every young reader.” Books For Keeps on The Very Quiet Cricket
“A characteristically bright and stylish creation.” Sunday Times on Rooster’s Off To See The World
“This is graphic art at its best.” Independent on Sunday on Today is Monday
“Carle’s spectacularly textured animals munching their way through a variety of foods … are a compelling introduction to the days of the week … A welcome gesture in the final tableau – Carle unobtrusively draws one of the children in a wheelchair.” TES on Today is Monday
“What a spectacular picture book! … a treat for all ages.” Books For Keepson Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
“Great fun and has an amusing twist at the end.” Practical Parenting on Do You Want To Be My Friend?
“An unusual how to draw book doubling as a record of the development of artistic talent … imaginatively thought-provoking.” TES on Draw Me A Star