On June 25th, the renowned children’s author and illustrator, Eric Carle, will celebrate his 88th birthday. For almost 50 years, he has brought joy to children around the world with his stories. Since the publication of his most well-known book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, he has worked on over 70 titles. His artwork is instantly recognisable with its use of bright colours and distinctive collage technique (Biographical Notes for Eric Carle, n.d.). In the following video, marking the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle talks about how the book came into being and gives some insight into his art techniques.
Eric Carle-The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Waterstones
Born in New York, Eric Carle moved to Germany with his family when he was six. He returned to America in 1952 and worked as a graphic designer at the New York Times and then as the art director of an advertising agency. His collaboration with Bill Martin Jnr, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, marked the beginning of his career in children’s books (Biographical Notes for Eric Carle, n.d.).
Eric Carle’s picture books often have special features, such as twinkling lights (The Very Lonely Firefly), cut-outs (The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and sounds (The Very Clumsy Click Beetle and The Very Quiet Cricket), which add to the experience of reading for young children. Many have a strong nature theme, such as those about insects or marine life, with additional information provided about the characters in the story.
I have selected ten books written and illustrated by Eric Carle. These span his career as a children’s picture book author from 1969 to the present day.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969)
This all-time favorite not only follows the very hungry caterpillar as it grows from egg to cocoon to beautiful butterfly, but also teaches the days of the week, counting, good nutrition and more. Striking pictures and cleverly die-cut pages offer interactive fun (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
It’s hard to believe that The Very Hungry Caterpillar will soon be 50 years old. It has a timeless quality, which appeals to everyone, children and adults alike. It is a fabulous resource for introducing the days of the week and sequential counting.
The Mixed-Up Chameleon (1975)
Hilarious pictures show what happens when a bored chameleon wishes it could be more like other animals, but is finally convinced it would rather just be itself. An imagination-stretcher for children (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
This book is all about being yourself, rather than wanting to be someone else. Another picture book with a similar theme is Edward the Emu written by Sheena Knowles and illustrated by Rod Clements.
The Bad-Tempered Ladybird (1977)
A grouchy ladybug who is looking for a fight challenges everyone it meets regardless of their size or strength. How this bumptious bug gets its comeuppance and learns the pleasures to be gained by cheerfulness and good manners is an amusing lesson in social behavior. Die-cut pages add drama and dimension (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
Also known as The Grouchy Ladybug, this story introduces the concepts of telling the time and increasing size as the ladybird spends the day looking for someone to fight!
The Very Busy Spider (1984)
With the use of raised printing, this innovative book adds the sense of touch to vision and hearing as ways to understand and enjoy the strikingly designed illustrations and the memorable story. Various farm animals try to divert a busy little spider from spinning her web, but she persists and produces a thing of both beauty and usefulness. Enjoyed by all audiences, this book’s tactile element makes it especially interesting to the visually-impaired (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
Children are able to follow the spider’s silken thread with their fingers while learning how it makes its web. Farm animals try to make conversation with the spider, allowing readers to join in with the different noises they make.
A House for Hermit Crab (1987)
An underwater fantasy based on the true habits of hermit crabs and the flora and fauna of their marine environment, this book offers young readers an interesting first introduction to marine biology as well as an appealing story of Hermit Crab’s search for a house he can really call his home, as he grows throughout one year’s cycle (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
The months of the year form the structure for this book, with the hermit crab making new friends and adding to his shell as he journeys from January to December. Along the way, children are introduced to a range of sea animals from anemones to lanternfish.
From Head to Toe (1997)
“I can do it!” is the confidence-building message of this book. As young children copy the antics of Eric Carle’s animals, they’ll learn such important skills as careful listening, focusing attention, and following instructions. Just as alphabet books introduce letters and simple words, From Head to Toe introduces the basic body parts and simple body movements-the ABC’s of dancing, gymnastics, and other sports activities (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
This is such a fun book to read with children, because it is so interactive. They can mimic the animals as they use the various parts of their bodies in different ways. It is great for developing body awareness and learning to name body parts.
The Very Clumsy Click Beetle (1999)
HEAR the beetle CLICK as it flips through the pages of this book and learns how to land on its feet! Small readers will recognize and empathize with the clumsy little beetle’s eagerness to learn what the older beetle can already do so well. They will understand, too, its frustration when at first it fails. And they will surely rejoice in its eventual spectacular triumph (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
This book is all about perseverance and patience. The different animals the click beetle encounters encourage it to keep on trying. The book features a clicking sound as the page is turned for the final successful flip.
Slowly, slowly, slowly…that’s how the sloth lives. He hangs upside-down from the branch of a tree, night and day, in the sun and in the rain, while the other animals of the rain forest rush past him. “Why are you so slow? Why are you so quiet? Why are you so lazy?” the others ask the sloth. And, after a long, long time, the sloth finally tells them (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d)!
In the blurb of the book, Eric Carle asks “Why are we always in a hurry?” The sloth in this story can teach us all about slowing down and experiencing life, rather than dashing from one activity to another. A very zen book!
Mister Seahorse (2004)
Mister Seahorse and fellow fish fathers, who care for their soon-to-be-hatched offspring, share their stories while acetate pages reveal camouflaged creatures who bear witness to the conversation between fathers with fins (Eric Carle Bibliography, n.d).
This is my favourite book by Eric Carle. I love the way information about the different fish fathers that care for their offspring is shared as part of the story rather than in a didactic way. I particularly love poor Mr Tilapia, who can’t answer Mr Seahorse because his mouth is full of eggs! Children also enjoy finding the creatures that are camouflaged behind the see-through pages.
I am an artist and I paint…a blue horse, a red crocodile, a polka-dotted donkey…
Here is a celebration of creativity and colour that will inspire young artists everywhere.
This book was written as a homage to Franz Marc, the German expressionist artist, who was killed during the First World War. He was famous for his paintings of blue horses, hence the book’s title. Each animal is presented in stunning double page spreads with a simple text.
So many of Eric Carle’s books have become classics and this may be because:
The secret of [his]…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 (Biographical Notes for Eric Carle, n.d.).
Here’s a treat to end with; Eric Carle reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I particularly love the close-up shot of the poor caterpillar with a stomach ache from eating too much food!
Eric Carle reads The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Puffin Books
Happy birthday, Eric Carle! And thank you for the beautiful, funny and informative books that you have created over the last five decades.
All images taken by the author. The quote for The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse taken from the blurb of the book.