Eric Carle, an author and illustrator of over seventy children's books, is most famous for The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has been translated into more than thirty languages. Born in Syracuse, New York on June 25, 1929, to German emigrants Erich and Johanna Carle, Eric moved to Germany with his parents when he was six years old. He was educated there, graduating from the prestigious art school, the Akademie der bildenden Kunste, in Stuttgart.
Carle desired to return to the United States, so he moved to New York City in 1952 with only $40 to his name. Once there, he landed a job as a graphic designer in The New York Times' promotion department. Carle's true career began one day when educator and author Bill Martin Jr. called to ask Carle to illlustrate a story he had written. Martin had been attracted by a picture of a red lobster that Carle had created for an advertisement. The result of their collaboration was Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which became a best-seller. Carle was soon writing his own stories too, publishing his first wholly original book, 1,2,3 to the Zoo in 1968. This was followed quickly by The Very Hungry Caterpillar in 1969.
Eric Carle's distinctive collage technique is instantly recognizable. He uses hand-painted papers, cutting and layering them to form bright, colorful images. Many of his books have an added tactile dimension—die-cut pages, twinkling lights in The Very Lonely Firefly, and even the lifelike sound of a cricket's song in The Very Quiet Cricket. Carle's readers often use his work as an example, creating collages themselves that they send to him; he receives hundreds of letters each week from his young admirers.
The themes of Carle's stories are usually drawn from his extensive knowledge and love of nature—an interest shared by many small children. In his writing, Carle attempts to recognize children's feelings, inquisitiveness and creativity, as well as to stimulate their intellectual growth. It is for these reasons, in addition to his unique artwork, that many feel his books have been such a success.
"With many of my books," writes Carle, "I attempt to bridge the gap between the home and school. To me home represents 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. 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 both fascinating and fun."
Carle, along with his wife Barbara, founded The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a 44,000 sq. feet museum devoted to children's books in Amherst on the campus of Hampshire College. Carle received an honorary doctorate from Bates College in 2007. He has two adult children, a son and a daughter, and currently divides his time between Northampton, Massachusetts and Hawley, Massachusetts. More than 71 million copies of his books have been sold around the world.
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