Imagine a world where anything is possible—where dogs sport a luscious coat of pink fur, green cats preen themselves with zebra striped tongues, ruby red snakes have glowing purple polka dots, and rainbow spotted elephants spray orange slices from a mile long trunk. This is the world that Eric Carle dares his readers to imagine.
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Eric Carle was born June 25, 1929 in Syracuse, New York. When he was six years old, he and his parents moved to Germany where he grew up and eventually graduated from Akademie der bildenden Künste, a prestigious art school in Stuttgart. He never forgot his American roots and returned to the place of his happiest childhood memories in 1952.
Inspired at a young age by German artist Franz Marc, who is known for his paintings of blue horses, Eric Carle has illustrated over seventy books, many of which he also wrote. The following are some of his most memorable contributions to children’s literature.
The first book Eric Carle illustrated was titled Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Published in 1967, its bold and colorful illustrations brought a fresh look to children’s literature.
In 1969, The Very Hungry Caterpillar quietly began to work its way into all of our hearts. By far his most well-known children’s book with over 22 million copies sold, it has been translated into more than thirty languages and has graced bookshelves for over forty years.
So, what is the magic that makes this book popular even to this day?
Is it the simple story of the life cycle depicted in the form of a tiny insect? Is it the fact that it teaches the days of the week, counting, and good nutrition paired with interactive die-cut pages? Is it the suggestion that we are all a bit like this little caterpillar and will one day turn into beautiful butterflies? Maybe it is the vivid illustrations themselves, which startle the senses and spark the imagination. Whatever the reason may be, it stands true that The Very Hungary Caterpillar is a worthy example of how far a little imagination and creativity can take you.
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle (source)
The year 1970 brought The Tiny Seed with its collage illustrations accompanied by simple poetic text that demonstrate the enormous potential of one tiny seed.
One of my personal favorites, Have you seen my Cat? takes the reader on a journey through distant lands where wild and domesticated cats alike adorn the pages in Eric Carle’s classic illustrative style. Published in 1973, the pictures more than the text lead the reader from page to page searching for a boy’s beloved pet.
The Very Busy Spider includes a raised printing technique (source)
The Very Busy Spider was published in 1984. Its striking illustrations are enhanced with a raised printing technique that allows readers to enjoy the story by sight, sound and touch.
Hello, Red Fox (source)
Published in 1998, Hello, Red Fox is a colorful book with a lot of surprises. Eric Carle’s illustrations take readers on a journey to discover complementary colors.
Featuring amazing rainforest illustrations,“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” said the Sloth was released in 2002. Eric Carle was inspired to write this book at a time when his life was very hectic. He got fed up with it one day and after locking himself up in his studio he began to work on this book. It now stands as a reminder to us all to slow down and take a break sometimes. (source)
Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do you See? by Eric Carle (source)
In 2007, Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do you See? hit the shelves. If you will remember, Eric Carle started his career with a book with a similar title, but from the adult bear’s perspective. Thinking it would be a nice way to sort of round off his career, he got back together with Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated this children’s book. Little did he know that he wasn’t quite finished with his career…
The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, by Eric Carle (cover source)
Eric Carle’s The Artist who Painted a Blue Horse came out this year (2011) as a stunning illustrated book that truly explores and encourages a child’s imaginative potential. The first page displays a little boy holding a paintbrush saying, “I am an artist and I paint a blue horse.” Subsequent pages are illustrated with a whole zoo of unconventionally colored animals, and concluding with the little boy again, this time saying, “I am a good artist…” The addition of one powerful little word to the sentence expresses Eric Carle’s deep belief that the imagination cannot and should not be hindered. In fact, his own creative process is a testament to this. (source)
Eric Carle in his studio (source)
“I often try making paper more than what paper is.”-Eric Carle (source)
Eric Carle’s illustrative technique is to use hand-painted, cut and collaged tissue paper. Using overlaying colors combined with bold strokes, wavy lines, polka dots, and other techniques, the resultant tissue paper is bright and colorful.
“Many people make collages. Artists like Picasso and Matisse and Leo Lionni made collages. Many children have done collages at home or in their classrooms. I happen to make my collage illustrations using painted tissue papers. You might want to try it too!” — Eric Carle (source)
Eric Carle’s illustrative style demonstrates how repeated sequences of circles, squares, and lines can lead to endless creative possibilities.
As the author of some of the most unique and well-recognized illustrations in children’s literature, Eric Carle is a true advocate of creative expression. We would do well to recognize our own attempts at creativity as simply as Eric Carle does, meaning that anything goes. The imagination holds endless possibilities, and when we tap into our own creative wells, what will emerge? A beautiful butterfly? One can only hope there are a few purple penguins and lime green rhinos in there, too.