Obituary: Eric Carle, highly regarded author and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar



Died: May 23, 2021.

ERIC Carle, who died at the age of 91, was a very distinctive children’s book illustrator and writer. His best-known work, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, can be found on countless children’s shelves, having been continuously printed since 1969, selling over 41 million copies. In total, he sold almost 100 million books in his lifetime.

Carle’s hallmark was a rich collage technique, achieved by hand painting tissue paper which he then cut and layered. This deceptively blunt art form produced vivid images of great depth. What kid could forget the succulent blue plums or the deep-crusted cherry pie that the hungry caterpillar relishes?

Carle was born in Syracuse, New York, and has spent much of his career in the state of his birth, but what might otherwise have been a sedentary life was fundamentally changed by his parents’ decision, when Eric had six years, leaving the northern part of the state. York is back in their native Germany, a decision motivated by the homesickness of his mother.

They arrived in 1935, when most of the human trafficking was in the other direction. Eric spent the rest of his childhood and adolescence in Nazi Germany, not returning to the United States until the age of 23, in 1952.

Living in Germany during this traumatic time changed the whole family, especially Carle’s beloved father. Eric described his feelings for his father as “incredibly deep”.

The eldest Carle drew pictures for his young son, told him stories and took him for a walk, but when his son was 10 he was drafted into the German army and disappeared in action. He was captured by the Russians and spent eight years as a prisoner of war. Upon his return, he was, in his son’s words, “psychologically, physically devastated.”

Eric was less close to his mother, whom he described as more distant, but together they experienced the Allied bombing raids on Stuttgart, watching the city disintegrate around them. Aged 14, the young Carle is evacuated from Stuttgart to the countryside for his own protection, and is welcomed by a foster family he adores.

This romance in the middle of the war did not last. At 15, Carle and other boys between the ages of 14 and 16 were enlisted to dig trenches on the Siegfried Line, a 390 mile long defensive line along the western border of Germany. He worked alongside Russian and Italian prisoners of war and from day one he witnessed the murder of three prisoners a few meters away.

Carle had always had fond memories of his uncomplicated early childhood in New York State and became determined to return to the United States if he could.

At school, he showed a great flair for art, a talent nurtured by his high school art teacher, Herr Krauss, who took the risk of inviting Carle over to his home to see forbidden art reproductions. under the Nazis, such as works by Matisse, Picasso and Klee. The impact of his first encounter with these great modern artists was profound.

Carle made a commitment to study art and after the war he graduated from the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart. He found work as a poster designer and also got married. Soon after, he and his wife emigrated to New York City, arriving with just $ 40.

He found post-war New York to be full of opportunities and was hired first as a graphic designer in the New York Times promotion department and then in the advertising industry, where he is. became artistic director of an agency, a position he held for many years. . In between, he was drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War and was stationed for part of the time in his hometown of Stuttgart.

But Carle’s fame came in the form of children’s books. His first foray was a collaboration with children’s author Bill Martin Jnr, who asked Carle to provide illustrations for his text after seeing a striking image of a red lobster the artist had produced for an advertisement.

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? was released in 1967 and is still a children’s favorite. Carle’s next book was 1, 2, 3, To the Zoo, a wordless counting book with a dramatic sliding finish featuring 10 different animals on a train; then, in 1969, came the very hungry caterpillar.

He continued to illustrate more than 70 books, working until he reached old age. He also helped design the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, which opened in Massachusetts in 2002, and has showcased the work of greats like Maurice Sendak, author of the children’s classic, Where The Wild Things Are.

Among the tributes from last week was that of children’s author Jarret J. Krosoczka: Spending time with Eric Carle was the closest thing one could do to spending time with Santa Claus. His books and his defense of the arts will continue to spread over time. But he will be sorely missed in the children’s book community ”.

Carle had two children from his first marriage, Cirsten and Rolf, and in 1973 he married Barbara Morrison (known as Bobbie), a former teacher who co-founded a preschool for children with disabilities aimed at helping them with integrate into regular classes.

After 33 years in Massachusetts and having had enough of the harsh winters, Carle and Bobbie moved to the Florida Keys in 2003 where they built a Modernist villa of concrete, wood and steel, then dividing their time between Florida and the hills. from North Carolina. Bobbie died in 2015. Eric Carle is survived by his two children.


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