The SCBWI mourns the loss of one of the most celebrated and beloved creative minds in our field, Eric Carle, who passed away at his summer studio this week in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Eric Carle, best known for The Hungry Caterpillar published in 1969, also wrote or illustrated more than 70 books over the course of a long career.
Born in Syracuse, New York, he recalled an idyllic childhood holding hands with his father as they explored the woods and fields near their home. It was on those treks that he became particularly enamored of insects, especially those brimming with color. Love of color, in fact, was to eventually lead him to a life in picture book illustration
In the interim, however, his life took a dark turn when his homesick immigrant parents elected to return to their hometown in Germany. Unfortunately, their timing could not have been worse as World War II was about to break out.
In a 2007 interview on NPR, Mr. Carle said, “All of us regretted the move. During the war, there were no colors. Everything was gray and brown and the cities were all camouflaged with grays and greens and brown greens and…..there was no color.”
His father spent time in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp after being drafted into the Nazi army. The family barely survived. And the man who was to write the Very Hungry Caterpillar experienced a great deal of hunger himself.
Returning to the U.S. Carle worked at the New York Times before entering the children’s book field in 1967 illustrating his friend Bill Martin Jr’s, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
The Hungry Caterpillar has sold more than 55 million copies and for good reason. Not only is it full of the joyful colors Eric Carle had always loved, but the book quietly teaches toddlers and kindergarteners the basics of literacy and math, all the while keeping these young readers engrossed in a wonderful tale.
Wildly successful he was also incredibly generous, devoting much of his life to working with schools and teachers as he advocated for literacy and inclusiveness. Then, in 2002, along with his late wife, Barbara, he created the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Northampton Massachusetts. Today it is a center for the celebration of children’s book art, for the education of the next generation of artists, and for everyone who ever appreciated the unique magic of the children’s picture book.
The SCBWI has supported the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art since its inception. And the museum has supported the SCBWI and its members as well. Lin Oliver and Stephen Mooser, co-founders of the SCBWI, were themselves honored a few years ago when presented with the Eric Carle Mentor Award for their work in guiding authors and illustrators into careers in the field.
Tributes to Eric Carle flowing in from around the world often begin with the words “author of the beloved children’s book The Hungry Caterpillar.” And it is true the book is beloved, but even more beloved is the author and illustrator himself. Eric Carle’s contribution to the field is immeasurable, and the light and the colors that so inspired him during his life will long continue to brighten us all.