Monday, June 25, 2018

An Author a Day: Eric Carle

January 8

Originally published January 8, 2014; updated June 25, 2018.

 In 1969, Eric Carle's (June 25, 1929 - ) signature book The Very Hungry Caterpillar was published by World Publishing.  But that wasn't his first book, two years earlier, he had illustrated a book by Bill Martin Jr., Brown Bear Brown Bear.  That book was originally sold directly to schools for use in reading instruction. But more and more teachers requested trade book copies so in 1976 Holt issued a trade book edition.  A history of the "bear books" is included on a website maintained by Holt publishing.  But two things they do not make mention of includes the fact that although Bill Martin Jr. saw Carle's illustrated advertisement of a red lobster and solicited him to illustrate the book, the first trade book published did not include Carle's name on the cover.  Only Martin's name was on the cover of the book.  These days of course, Carle's name is prominently displayed on the cover of every book Carle illustrates.

The second unmentioned fact is that in the original classroom edition of Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?,  the repetitive refrain asks animal after animal what they see.  The book moves through many unusually colored animals, and some very normally colored animals.  There's a blue horse, a red bird, a yellow duck, green frog, and so forth.  In the classroom edition, a pink elephant and a gray mouse were among the animals in the book.  In the trade edition those two animals disappeared and have never seemed to have reappeared.  At the end of the book it is a teacher that the animal sees next, and then the teacher sees children "looking at me."  In some editions of the trade book, it is a mother (rather than a teacher).  The illustrations themselves have gone through many revisions of the illustrations.  The first edition of the books had illustrations composed of collages created from standard artist's tissue -- the kind anyone could purchase from the art store.  Revisions over the years kept essentially the same composition but were refined in the types of tissue used.  Carle began to create his own colors and patterned archival tissue paper.  Examining his earlier collages with those in more recent books show that the tissue paper now has brush marks and a texture not previously seen in earlier editions.
So by the time I was planning the first 1976 book conference, Eric Carle was a relatively new but very popular illustrator with books that captured the interest of adults and the children they read to.  Young readers loved the patterns in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and delighted in the daily progression of the caterpillar's existence in The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle, along with Marilyn Sachs, were two of the three authors/illustrators that were part of the very first Books Have It ... So Do We book conference, a conference that attracted 250-400 attendees every year for nearly 25 years.
Eric Carle was a gentle and humble artist who has gone on to become an icon in the field of children's literature.  But this spring day in 1976, he was a relatively new author/illustrator and he spoke to the audience explaining his art technique, and as the audience applauded his presentation, he came down off the stage and whispered to me, "Did I do all right?"
At the time he was moving to illustrate all of his books in paper collage but he had published a book that was not collage -- it was created in what looked like crayon sketches.  But this first version of The Mixed-Up Chameleon was different.  I asked him about the illustrations.  I was not sure if the illustrators were drawn with several colored crayons, or oil pastels, for example.  When asked he told me he actually had drawn the illustrations with a plain box of Crayola crayons.  Then he corrected himself and said, "Actually, I just used one black crayon and drew the artwork as separate pieces of art based on the colors I wanted the printer to print."  (NOTE: in 2009 Crayola created a new colored crayon - Very Hungry Caterpillar Green).  Seven years after the first edition of The Mixed-Up Chameleon, a new edition of the book was published with new illustrations in what had become Carle's signature collage form.  He had also tightened up the text.
Here's what I said about the "new" collage illustrated edition in 1984 -
K-GR 3 — Collage illustrations characteristic of much of Carle’s work are showcased in this reissue of The Mixed-Up Chameleon. The collages mimic the form and relationship to text of the original crayon drawings but the bold colors of the original have been muted and in doing so have helped focus readers on the ever-changing composition of the mixed-up animal. In addition to the new illustrations, the text has been tightened in this revision. In both editions, the illustrations enhance and complement the text, but in this revision, the illustrations have become an integral part of the story, adding information not stated. A chance to compare and contrast the two editions will give older readers some insight into the writing and editing process and the role of illustrations in picture books. A book that’s sure to remain a perennial favorite.” - by Sharron McElmeel, School Library Journal, December, 1984
A reviewer for Booklist provided an example of the text revision:
For example, where the 1975 edition read, “If I could be like a fox, then I would be smart. Instantly it had a fox’s fluffy red tail.” Now it simply says, “I wish I could be smart like a fox,” with the illustrations showing the fluffy red tail.
In addition to illustration revisions in several of his titles he also has revised the text in several of his books.  Those have included The Mixed-Up Chameleon and another favorite, Rooster's Off to See the World.  

The night before we had hosted a dinner at the Ronneberg Restaurant in Amana, Iowa - a German Community known for its delicious German food.  After that meal, Carle declared that it was the best German food he had eaten since leaving Germany.  And if he had not been a writer or illustrator what would he have been?
A chef!... I think it would be fun to wear a white apron and a chef's hat and cook up a delicious meal. ~ Eric Carle
One enduring memory of Carle's appearance in Cedar Rapids and the opportunity to meet him, greets me every day of my life.  As part of the promotion of the conference Carle's publisher sent several book jackets -- I had a couple extra when all the work was done.  A few months after that first conference my family and I moved into a "new" to us house, in the country.  There was a stairwell going to the lower level.  Since the downstairs with its picture window and French doors would primarily be the domain of our six children (at the time ranging from 3 mos to 14 years of age) I wanted the wall of the stair case to reflect the personality of the space.  And frankly I could not envision hanging long strips of wall paper - nor painting the slanted stair well.  So I bought a bucket of prepared wall paper paste and got out a stack of book jackets from favorite books and began to paper the walls, collage style.  This was the result - -and over the years I've touched up with a few new jackets to cover a crayon scribble or two or a spot that needed repair but basically the wall has stayed as a visual reminder of some of our favorite books.  Here is just one side of the stairwell.
About the same year we were moving into our home in rural Iowa, Eric Carle and Bobbi were moving into a house in rural Massachusetts in the Northhampton area.  After a decade or more they moved into a home in Northhampton itself, a home where they did not have to maneuver the snowy roads in the winter time.  Eventually, after Bobbi retired from her teaching career and after living for thirty-three years in the Northhampton, Massachusetts area Eric Carle and his wife Barbara decided to move south. They have now sold their Newhampton home and live in a house redesigned and rebuilt by noted designer Luis Pons in Florida.   The house is situated overlooking the ocean - and is located about halfway between Miami and Key West.  During the summer they retreat to a home in North Carolina that they purchased.  The home sits on a mountain top and the renovation was Bobbi's project.   Eric and "Bobbi" now spend their winters in Florida and summers in the hills of North Carolina.  Inspired by his studio in his Florida home Eric Carle is still creating art and books.  The two of them make frequent visits back to his "old studio" where he is a regular visitor at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Updated on Eric Carle's 89th birthday June 25, 2018:  Eric discusses his "two houses" in a post on his blog at  Bobbie Carle passed away on September 7, 2015. (Read announcement at .  The Eric Carle Museum has honored Bobbie with the establishment of Bobbie's garden (  The garden, now titled Bobbie's Meadow was dedicated on Saturday, June 23, 2018; The garden’s ribbon-cutting ceremony will be the opening event for the 2018 Annual Children’s Book Festival, themed around “gardens.”

Read all of Eric's blog posts at


Eric Carle's Home Page (WEB)
Brown Bear Web site (WEB)
Eric Carle's Blog (WEB)
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (WEB)
McElmeel, Sharron L.  100 Most Popular Picture Book Authors and Illustrators.  ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2000;  pages 98-103.
McElmeel, Sharron L. Authors in the Kitchen: Recipes, Stories, and More. ABC/CLIO/Libraries Unlimited, 2005; pages 49-51.

Sharron L. McElmeel Papers, University of Iowa's Special Collections, Iowa City, Iowa.
for author visits

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