Eric Carle is acclaimed and beloved as the creator of brilliantly illustrated and innovatively designed picture books for very young children. His best-known work, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," has eaten its way into the hearts of literally millions of children all over the world; it has been translated into more than 30 languages and sold over 18 million copies. Since the Caterpillar was published in 1969, Eric Carle has illustrated more than 70 books, many of which are best sellers, most of which he also wrote.
Born in Syracuse, New York, in 1929, Eric Carle moved with his parents to their native Germany when he was six years old; he was educated there, and graduated from the prestigious art school, the Akademie der bildenden Künste, in Stuttgart. But his dream was always to return to America, the land of his happiest childhood memories. So, in 1952, with a fine portfolio in hand and forty dollars in his pocket, he arrived in New York. Soon he found a job as a graphic designer in the promotion department of The New York Times. Later, he was the art director of an advertising agency for many years.
One day, respected educator and author, Bill Martin Jr, called to ask Eric to illustrate a story he had written. Bill’s eye had been caught by a striking picture of a red lobster that Eric Carle had created for an advertisement. "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" was the result of their collaboration. It is still a favorite with children everywhere. This was the beginning of Eric Carle’s true career. Soon the artist was writing his own stories, too. His first wholly original book was "1,2,3 to the Zoo," followed soon afterward by the celebrated classic, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."
Eric Carle’s art is distinctive and instantly recognizable. His artwork is created in collage technique, using hand-painted papers, which he cuts and layers to form bright and cheerful images. Many of his 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 in "The Very Quiet Cricket" – giving them a playful quality: toys that can be read, books that can be touched. Children also enjoy working in collage, and many send him pictures they have made themselves, inspired by his illustrations. He receives hundreds of letters each week from his young admirers.
The secret of the appeal of Eric Carle’s books lies in his intuitive understanding of and respect for children, who instinctively sense in him someone who shares their most cherished thoughts and emotions. The themes of his stories are usually drawn from his extensive knowledge and love of nature – an interest shared by most small children. Besides being beautiful and entertaining, his books always offer children the opportunity to learn something about the world around them. His concern for children, for their feelings and their inquisitiveness, for their creativity and their intellectual growth, in addition to his beautiful artwork, makes the reading of his books a stimulating and lasting experience.
Eric Carle says: “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.”
In the fall of 2002, a longtime dream of Eric and his wife Barbara became a reality. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art opened its doors to the public in November, 2002. The newly constructed 44,000-square-foot building is situated in a 7.5-acre apple orchard adjacent to the campus of Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. The Museum exhibits the work of national and international picture book artists in three galleries. Since its opening, the Museum has had more than 50,000 visitors and has exhibited the work of Maurice Sendak, Mitsumasa Anno, Nancy Ekholm Burkert, Ashley Bryan, Robert Ingpen, Leo Lionni, and, of course, Eric Carle.
In 2003, Eric Carle was selected by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, as the recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Lifetime Achievement Award. This prestigious award – which has been given to 13 authors and illustrators since 1954, including Maurice Sendak and E.B. White – honors the work of authors and illustrators for their “substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.”
Eric Carle has two grown children, a son and a daughter. With his wife Barbara, he lives in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Carles spend their summers in the nearby Berkshire Hills.