Eric Carle

Children’s Book Authors: The Colorful World of Eric Carle

November 11, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Eric Carle was born in New York, but his immigrant parents moved the family back to their native Germany in 1935. Despite (or perhaps because of) the oppressive Nazi education system he encountered, Carle lost himself in art. He developed a fascination with color that lends his children’s books a uniquely vibrant spirit.

On the Fringe

Carle is inspired by weeds. He lets the fringes of his flower garden grow, seeking inspiration from the colors and textures of the tangled grass around the tended plots of his garden. According to an NPR feature on Carle, “even the most insignificant weeds play a pivotal part in his garden palette.” The attention Carle pays to the details of his garden mirrors his fascination with detail in the world around him.

The characters in his books "were inspired largely by the fox holes, spider webs, bugs and animals" he encountered while "exploring castles" and hiking with his father in Stuttgart, Germany, during his childhood. Later, Carle was introduced by his art teacher, Herr Kraus, to abstract art and masters like Picasso and Matisse, and felt "shocked and attracted to it at the same time," he told NPR. Abstract artists are among Carle's biggest influences today.

The Very Famous Caterpillar

More than 88 million copies of Eric Carle’s books have been sold around the world. Translated into more than 47 different languages, one of his most famous works, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," has sold more than 29 million copies. The extraordinary success of Carle’s career is the result of his vivid imagination. "The secret of Eric Carle’s books’ appeal lies in his intuitive understanding of and respect for children, who sense in him instinctively someone who shares their most cherished thoughts and emotions,” according to his biography on the Official Eric Carle Web site.

Carle’s early childhood was spent in Syracuse, N.Y., where he was born in 1929. At the age of six, he and his parents moved to Germany, where Carle was educated at a famous art school. But according to his biography, “his dream was always to return to America, the land of his happiest childhood memories.”

He returned to the U.S. in 1952. After working as a graphic designer for The New York Times, Carle was invited to collaborate on a children’s book with Bill Martin Jr., an author and editor who was impressed by an illustration Carle made for an advertisement. This is how Carle’s first book, "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" was created. Soon after, Carle began writing and illustrating children’s books. A complete list of his works is available on his official site.

Listen to Carle as he reads from “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” in a video available on YouTube.

Advocate for Children's Picture Books

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., displays work by Carle and other authors. Take a virtual tour of the museum, and find activities and discussions for kids. The museum fosters the creativity of its visitors by offering an art studio where children and adults are “encouraged to find their own inspiration through a guided program inspired by works in the galleries.”

Creative Responsibility

Respecting and understanding the creative impulse in children has always been a focus of Carle’s work. In an interview with Gwynne Watkins on Babble, Carle expresses his appreciation for children’s art, which he believes is “expressive in a way adult artists have to work very hard to achieve. We have to unlearn so much to be like children; to be closer to pure creativity.”

Watch video clips of another Carle interview with the educational organization Reading Rockets. In this discussion, Carle explains some of the objectives of his books, and the process of creating a story. He also describes the responsibility he feels as an illustrator. “We have eyes, and we're looking at stuff all the time, all day long," Carle says. "And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important."

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