Late in May, news arrived that Eric Carle died at the age of 91. I’m late in writing an appreciation, as it took me a while to draw a butterfly in celebration of his books.
In the 1980s, when I was a teenager, I discovered Eric Carle’s books while working in my grandparents’ bookstore (Gingerbread Square Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware). The vivid colors of the illustrations snagged my attention. The colors seemed to pop from the white pages. Upon looking closer, I saw that the colors weren’t solid — anything but. They were more interesting, complex, varying in texture. I had no idea how those designs were made — later I learned Mr. Carle painted tissue paper, then layered it to accomplish the effect.
And so I was captured in the magic of the colors and delightful story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. There were many slow hours in the bookstore — tourists were surely enjoying the beach — when I read to pass the time. Novels, comic books, and kids books now and then. Carle’s books were in the mix of books I read.
Then leap about 15 years, when my twin daughters were infants. My wife and I love to read, and that love was also expressed by reading to our daughters. Again, Mr. Carle’s books were in the mix. A wonder for me to see the joy on our daughters’ faces while they looked at the illustrations and listened to the stories. When getting to the page spread of the beautiful butterfly, they would sometimes walk around flapping their arms and say “fss, fss, fss,” to imitate a flying butterfly. Adorable.
Added to Mr. Carle’s Caterpillar book in the reading times were Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and Mister Seahorse and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Then leap another 15 years, when I sadly listened to the news of Mr. Carle passing on. A quote from his obituary in The Washington Post, on May 27, 2021, written by Emily Langer:
“The long, dark time of growing up in wartime Germany, the cruelly enforced discipline of my school years there, the dutifully performed work at my jobs in advertising — all these were finally losing their rigid grip on me. The child inside me — who had been so suddenly and sharply uprooted and repressed — was beginning to come joyfully back to life.” — Eric Carle
Thank you, Eric Carle, for the many gifts you put out into the world. You brought joy to lots and lots of young readers and parents.