The Very Hungry Caterpillar - first published in 1969 - is a staple in millions of children’s first library. Through books such as Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Do You Want to Be My Friend? and From Head to Toe, Eric Carle introduced universal themes in simple words and bright colours.
On drawing inspiration
Born in Syracuse, New York, Carle’s early childhood was filled with art and long walks through nature with his father. “I think it started with my father,” he told NPR in 2007. The elder Carle would show him bugs, ants, foxholes, bird nests and explain them to him. He introduced him to the wonders of nature and living creatures which he would later immortalise in his work. Over five decades, Carle has written more than 70 charming children’s titles.
On his path to creating children’s book
Carle was a child of German immigrants. His family moved back to Germany when he was a little child and they arrived when the world is on the brink of the Second World War. Contrary to his bright and colourful works, Carle’s childhood was far from joyful. Everything around him was gloomy. “…the cities were all camouflaged with grays and greens and brown greens and grey greens or brown greens, and ... there was no colour."
The trauma of war gave him a different way of viewing the world.
After graduating from an art school in Germany, Carle moved back to the United States and worked at The New York Times. Later on, he moved to advertising before collaborating with Bill Martin Jr in creating Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
On why his work, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is so well-loved
For many years, Carle and his publishers did not know the reason for the popularity of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. But over time, he has come to believe that children could identify with the helpless little caterpillar. “I think it’s a message of hope. It says: I too can grow up. I too can unfold my wings (my talent) and fly into the world.” The book has sold more than 50 million copies and translated into 62 languages.
On 23 May 2021, Carle passed away in Northampton, Massachussets, at age 91. But he lived on in his books and countless lives he has touched through his beautiful endearing illustrations.