Friends, the authors remember Eric Carle as funny, generous, creative


He was a beloved children’s book illustrator and writer whose groundbreaking book, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, broke new ground in the field and was eventually translated into over 70 languages.

He was also the founder of a unique museum in Amherst showcasing works of art in children’s books, which everyone believes has helped make this region a hub for a new generation of ‘children’s book artists.

But the friends of Eric Carle, who died in Northampton on Sunday 23 May at the age of 91, also remember him as a witty and thoughtful man who remained creative until the end, someone ‘one who has never lost their love of creating children’s books, especially creating inventive collage art that would appeal to their love of color and sense of wonder.

“He was a wonderful friend, he had a great sense of humor, he was generous and he had great talent,” said Jane Yolen, the Hatfield writer and poet who released her 400th anniversary earlier this year. delivered. “My kids adored him – he was part of the family.”

Yolen said she first met Carle when they were both at the start of their careers and shared an editor; she remembers Carle living in Franklin County at the time. They have been good friends for years, and she remembers seeing him just a few years ago at a birthday party in Agawam for fellow children’s book writer and illustrator, Tony DiTerlizzi.

“Eric was in great shape,” she said. “I had been told that he had faded a bit since (his wife) Bobbie’s death, but he was still so bright. So I was amazed to learn that he was dead and that it was was here in Northampton. (Carle and his late wife, who died in 2015, had moved to Florida and North Carolina about 17 years ago, but had kept a studio in Northampton.)

But Carle’s art and legacy will live on, added Yolen, who says “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” published in 1969, ushered in “a whole new language, a whole new way of telling a story. This has led to an explosion of new ideas for using ‘art’ in children’s books.

And the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which opened in Amherst in 2002, has provided a new emphasis on art in children’s books, Yolen said, showing how illustrations and other works of art can carry a story and not just serve as a backdrop for the words. . Carle “changed the way we think about art,” she said, and also gave kids a new way to appreciate it.

Magnet for authors

In total, Carle has published over 70 books which have sold over 170 million copies, some of which, like “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, are considered classics – “The Grouchy Ladybug”, “The Very Quiet Cricket “and” Do You Do you want to be my friend? “

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, writer and illustrator for children and young adults, says he and his wife, Gina, ended up moving from Boston around 2007 to the Valley, in part because of the museum. Krosoczka, who lives in Florence, says he had come several times to see the first exhibitions at the Amherst center – he jokes that one of his first dates with Gina was a visit there – and finally felt he wanted to be closer to the stage.

“I think that by creating the museum, Eric really cemented the Valley as a national and even global space of creativity for children’s book artists,” Krosoczka said.

He notes that on many of his past visits to schools and bookstores across the country to talk about his own books, school librarians and others “kind of looked longingly and said they wished they could have lived. (in the valley) so that we can go to the Museum. “

Carle himself, Krosoczka said, “was just a kind and gentle soul, besides being someone whose books made such a huge impact.” And Carle has also been “always generous with his time,” he said.

In 2013, for example, Krosoczka participated in a group project in which artists raised funds for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, including creating a large poster with the words “We Art Boston”, with each letter created by a different artist. Krosoczka asked Carle to contribute to the poster, which “Eric was happy to do,” he said.

Barbara Elleman, former editor of children’s books for “Booklist,” a critical publication of the American Library Association, also recalls Carle’s generosity. Elleman, from Amherst, says she met Carle years ago at events such as book lectures and other ALA events. She and her late husband, Don, who had previously lived in Chicago, then visited Carle and his wife in Florida.

After the death of her husband and the loss of his wife by Carle, the two met at the opening of a memorial garden at the museum named in honor of Bobbie Carle. As Elleman recalls, “Eric put his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Well, Barbara, we’re both alone now.’ I was so touched that he remembers my husband.

Start with nothing

Carle’s friends say they’ve also been in awe of how he got through a tough childhood and adolescence for a long time. He was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1929 to immigrant German parents, but the family returned to Germany in 1935 because his mother was homesick. As Carle would later relate, in Nazi Germany he lost the freedom of speech and access to art he enjoyed in the United States; his father then spent years as a prisoner of war in Russia, while the teenager Carle was forced to dig defensive works on the western border of Germany and take shelter from Allied bombers.

As Amherst’s illustrator DiTerlizzi puts it, Carle came back to the United States in his early twenties “with next to nothing, and he’s had a great life, a wonderfully creative life.”

DiTerlizzi also remembers Carle taking the time to talk to him when he first met him at the Carle Museum, when DiTerlizzi started his career.

“He took me seriously, he was attentive, he listened to me – I just found him really generous,” DiTerlizzi said. “I could never have imagined when I was younger that I would one day be friends with such a legendary figure in the industry.”

And DiTerlizzi’s wife Angela, who is also a children’s book writer, remembers the couple moving to Amherst from New York on the same weekend in 2002 when the Eric Carle Museum opened; they had both been drawn to live in the area because of the museum.

“I remember thinking, ‘If this is the kind of community that takes children’s books and art seriously and puts it forward like that, we have to be here,” “she said.

“A very nice routine”

For Richard Michelson, poet, children’s writer and owner of an art gallery in Northampton, one of Eric Carle’s lasting impressions was how good he was with children.

“He loved children,” he says. “When he spoke with children, he lit up, and so did they…. And I can tell you that this is not universally the case with illustrators of children’s books.

The work of these artists has long been exhibited in the R. Michelson Galleries, but Michelson says the opening of the Eric Carle Museum “was just a huge boost for this kind of art.” And for years, Carle also had his studio just down the street from Michelson’s Gallery on Main Street in Northampton, and Michelson would often see Carle walking around to get a little exercise; he stopped to rest on a bench in front of the gallery.

“I would go over there and sit with him, and we would discuss this and that,” he said. “It has become a great routine for us. He was always very welcoming, always had a kind word about what we had in our gallery. I have works signed by him that I will always treasure.

Alexandra Kennedy, executive director of the Eric Carle Museum, said that “thousands of messages and stories of condolence” entered a website ( created by the Carle family – a fitting tribute, he said. she writes in an e-mail, to a man who “has brought so many joy to so many people”.

“Eric was a visionary artist – as a picture book illustrator, of course, who was so well known for his tissue paper collages,” Kennedy said. “But he was also masterful in the art he created for his own pleasure.”

And, she says, Carle was a great ambassador for the museum, as was another local children’s author, Norton Juster, who died in March.

But Carle was also “our friend and our inspiration,” Kennedy said. “I will miss his wit and playfulness, his kindness and his good company.” We know our job is to carry on his legacy, something we take very seriously, but today we just keep his memory close and feel gratitude for having him in our lives.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at [email protected]

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