Eric Carle

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Eric Carle
Carle in 1988
Carle in 1988
Born(1929-06-25)June 25, 1929
Syracuse, New York, U.S.
DiedMay 23, 2021(2021-05-23) (aged 91)
Northampton, Massachusetts, U.S.
OccupationAuthor, designer, illustrator
Alma mater
GenreChildren's picture books
Years active1963–2021
Notable works
Notable awardsLaura Ingalls Wilder Medal
Barbara Morrison
(m. 1973; died 2015)

Eric Carle (June 25, 1929 – May 23, 2021) was an American author, designer and illustrator of children's books.[2] His picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, first published in 1969, has been translated into more than 66 languages and sold more than 50 million copies. Carle's career as an illustrator and children's book author took off after he collaborated on Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. Carle illustrated more than 70 books, most of which he also wrote, and more than 145 million copies of his books have been sold around the world.[3]

In 2003, the American Library Association awarded Carle the biennial Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal (now called the Children's Literature Legacy Award), a prize for writers or illustrators of children's books published in the U.S. who have made lasting contributions to the field. Carle was also a U.S. nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2010.[4]

Early life[edit]

Carle was born on June 25, 1929, in Syracuse, New York, the son of Johanna (née Oelschlaeger) and Erich W. Carle, a civil servant.[5] When he was six years old, his mother, homesick for Germany, led the family back to Stuttgart. Carle was educated there and graduated from the local art school, the State Academy of Fine Arts Stuttgart. His father was drafted into the German army at the beginning of World War II (1939) and taken prisoner by the Soviet forces when Germany capitulated in May 1945. He returned home in late 1947, weighing 85 pounds (39 kg). Carle told The Guardian years later that his father was a broken man when he came back by saying he was a "sick man. Psychologically, physically devastated."[6][7]

Carle was sent to the small town of Schwenningen to escape the bombings of Stuttgart.[8] When he was 15, the German government conscripted boys of that age to dig trenches on the Siegfried Line. Carle did not care to think about it deeply and said his wife thought he suffered from post-traumatic stress.

You know about the Siegfried line? To dig trenches. And the first day three people were killed a few feet away. None of us children -- Russian prisoners and other conscripted workers. The nurses came and started crying. And in Stuttgart, our home town, our house was the only one standing. When I say standing, I mean the roof and windows are gone, and the doors. And, well, there you are.[9]

Always homesick for the United States, Carle dreamed of returning home one day. He eventually made it to New York City in 1952 with only $40 in savings and landed a job as graphic designer in the promotion department of The New York Times. Carle was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War and stationed in Germany[10] with the 2nd Armoured Division as a mail clerk.[8] After his discharge, Carle returned to his old job with The New York Times.[11] Carle later became the art director of an advertising agency.[12]

Writing and illustrating career[edit]

Eric Carle with some of his books, 1988

Educator and author Bill Martin Jr. noticed the illustration of a red lobster Carle had created for an advertisement and asked him to collaborate on a picture book.[13]

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was published by Henry Holt & Co. in 1967[14] and became a best-seller.[15] Thus began Carle's career as an illustrator, and soon he was writing and illustrating his own stories. His first books as both author and illustrator were 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 1969.[16]

Carle's artwork was created as collage, using hand-painted papers, which he cut and layered to form bright and colourful images. Many of Carle's books have an added dimension—die-cut pages, twinkling lights as in The Very Lonely Firefly, even the lifelike sound of a cricket's song as in The Very Quiet Cricket. The themes of his stories are usually drawn from nature and inspired by the walks his father would take him on across meadows and through woods.[11]

In Carle's own words:[17]

With many of my books I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents, or should represent; warmth, security, toys, holding hands, being held. School is a strange and new place for a child. Will it be a happy place? There are new people, a teacher, classmates—will they be friendly?

I believe the passage from home to school is the second biggest trauma of childhood; the first is, of course, being born. Indeed, in both cases, we leave a place of warmth and protection for one that is unknown. The unknown often brings fear with it. In my books, I try to counteract this fear, to replace it with a positive message. I believe that children are naturally creative and eager to learn. I want to show them that learning is really both fascinating and fun.

Personal life[edit]

Eric Carle, 2009

For over 30 years, Carle and his second wife, Barbara Morrison, lived in Northampton, Massachusetts. He also owned a home in Key Largo, Florida.[10] Carle had a son and a daughter.[18]

With his second wife, Carle founded The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a 44,000 sq ft (4,100 m2) museum devoted to the art of children's books in Amherst, adjacent to Hampshire College.[19][20] According to the museum, it has had over 500,000 visitors, including more than 30,000 school children, since it opened its doors in 2002.[21]

Carle received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities including Williams College in 2016,[22] Smith College in 2014, Appalachian State University in 2013 and Bates College in 2007.[23]

Google paid tribute to Carle and his book The Very Hungry Caterpillar by asking him to design the logo "Google doodle", introduced on its home page on March 20, 2009, celebrating the first day of spring.[24]

Carle won numerous awards for his work in children's literature,[25] including the Japan Picture Book Award, the Regina Medal and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators.[26] In 2003, Carle received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now called the Children's Literature Legacy Award), from the professional children's librarians, which recognizes an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made "a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children".[27] The committee cited Carle's "visual observations of the natural world" and his innovative designs: "Taking the medium of collage to a new level, Carle creates books using luminous colors and playful designs often incorporating an interactive dimension, tactile or auditory discoveries, die-cut pages, foldouts, and other innovative uses of page space."[28]

In a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, The Very Hungry Caterpillar was voted the number two children's picture book behind Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.[29][30]

In 2019, a jumping spider mimicking a caterpillar was named in Carle's honor,[31][32] to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and to celebrate his 90th birthday.[33]

The Frist Art Museum exhibition "Eric Carle's Picture Books: Celebrating 50 Years of The Very Hungry Caterpillar" was on display from October 18, 2019, through February 23, 2020.[34] In November 2019, Carle sold his publishing rights to Penguin Random House.[35]


Carle died on May 23, 2021, at his summer studio in Northampton, Massachusetts, from kidney failure, at the age of 91.[36][11] An official announcement was made by his family on May 26, 2021, via their website.[37]

Selected works[edit]

Eric Carle wrote over 70 books that sold over 170 million copies.[11]


  1. ^ "The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Mourns the Loss of Co-Founder Barbara Carle". The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Retrieved May 2, 2020.
  2. ^ "Eric Carle Obituary". Retrieved May 26, 2021.
  3. ^ data supplied by the business office of Eric Carle Studio, Oct 2013
  4. ^ "2010 HCA Winners and Finalists". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
      "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". IBBY. Retrieved 2013-07-22.
  5. ^ Nakamura, Joyce (May 27, 1993). Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults: A Selection of Sketches from Something about the Author. Gale Research. ISBN 9780810373839 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ "Emma Brockes meets Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar". The Guardian. March 14, 2009. Retrieved August 27, 2023.
  7. ^ "Eric Carle: The very busy illustrator". The Independent. May 27, 2021. Retrieved May 27, 2022.
  8. ^ a b Carl, Eric (1996). The Art of Eric Carle. New York, NY: Philology Books. ISBN 0-399-24600-2.
  9. ^ Brockes, Emma (March 14, 2009). "This one's got legs". The Guardian.
  10. ^ a b Bernstein, Fred A. (December 13, 2007). "Hungry Caterpillar in the Florida Keys". The New York Times. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d "Eric Carle, Author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Dies at 91". The New York Times. May 26, 2021.
  12. ^ Bosselman, Haley (May 27, 2021). "Eric Carle, Author of 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar,' Dies at 91". Variety. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  13. ^ "Eric Carle, creator of 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar,' turns 90". DW.COM. June 25, 2019. Retrieved September 21, 2019.
  14. ^ Rogers, Amanda (February 8, 2001). "These five books will get kids reading". The Desert Sun. p. 32. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  15. ^ Graeber, Laurel (March 13, 2014). "Spare Times for Children for March 14–20". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  16. ^ Ponnekanti, Rosemary (October 17, 2006). "The Art of Eric Carle". The News Tribune. pp. E1. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  17. ^ "Biographical Notes for Eric Carle". The Official Eric Carle Web Site.
  18. ^ Ulaby, Neda (June 12, 2019). "A Very Happy 50th Birthday To 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'". National Public Radio.
  19. ^ "Eric Carle, Creator Of 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar,' Has Died". Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  20. ^ Jermanok, Stephen. "In New England: Once upon a time in Amherst". The State Journal-Register. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  21. ^ "The Carle Seeks a Curator". Carle Museum.
  22. ^ Lemoine, Noelle. "Williams College Announces Its 2016 Honorary Degree Recipients". Williams Office of Communications. Retrieved August 9, 2016.
  23. ^ NISSY"Eric Carle". Bates College. Retrieved February 2, 2009.
  24. ^ "Google celebrates Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar". The Telegraph. Retrieved September 2, 2015.
  25. ^ "The Official Eric Carle Web Site - Awards List". Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  26. ^ "2010 Contemporary: Eric Carle". Lifetime Achievement Winners. Society of Illustrators.
  27. ^ "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Past winners". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). American Library Association (ALA).
      "About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved 2013-03-09.
  28. ^ "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award Winner, 2003". ALSC. ALA. 2003. Retrieved June 10, 2013.
  29. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (June 28, 2012). "Top 100 Picture Books #2: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle". A Fuse 8 Production. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  30. ^ "SLJ's Top 100 Picture Books" Archived November 23, 2016, at the Wayback Machine (poster presentation of reader poll results). A Fuse #8 Production. School Library Journal. 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  31. ^ Logunov, Dmitri V.; Obenauer, Stefan M (April 8, 2019). "A new species of Uroballus Simon, 1902 (Araneae: Salticidae) from Hong Kong, a jumping spider that appears to mimic lichen moth caterpillars". Israel Journal of Entomology. 49: 1–9. doi:10.5281/zenodo.2632730.
  32. ^ "Spider named after The Very Hungry Caterpillar author Eric Carle". BBC News. April 18, 2019. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  33. ^ "Newly discovered jumping spider named for children's author". The University of Manchester. Retrieved May 27, 2021.
  34. ^ BWW News Desk. "Frist Art Museum Presents Eric Carle's Picture Books: Celebrating 50 Years Of 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar'". Retrieved September 30, 2019.
  35. ^ "Penguin Random House to Acquire Complete Works of Eric Carle".
  36. ^ "'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' author, illustrator Eric Carle dies at 91". ABC. May 26, 2021.
  37. ^ "Family of Bobbie & Eric Carle".

External links[edit]