Eric Carle stands with large cutout of the iconic image from his children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass. Photo: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
Hungry Caterpillar Author Eric Carle Dies At 91
/ BY Kim Honey / May 27th, 2021
Eric Carle, the illustrator and author of the children’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has died at his summer studio in Northhampton, Mass. He was 91.
His instantly recognizable artwork, created with hand-painted tissue paper that he cut and layered into collages, has been featured in 70 books, but it was The Very Hungry Caterpillar that captured the imaginations of preschoolers around the world. Published in 1969, it has been translated into 66 languages and sold more than 50 million copies.
It has been lauded by children’s literature experts for teaching colours, counting, the days of the week and nutrition, not to mention the rudiments of metamorphosis. When the book begins, it is Sunday and the caterpillar hatches out of an egg. It proceeds to eat a ton of fruit on subsequent days, but goes on a junk-food binge on Saturday and gets a stomachache. “The next day was Sunday again. The caterpillar ate through one nice green leaf, and after that he felt much better.”
After cocooning for two weeks, it emerges as a beautiful butterfly, an analogy, Carle once said, for aging. “Like the caterpillar, children will grow up and spread their wings.”
Carle was born in the U.S. but his parents moved back to their native Germany when he was six. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart in 1952, he arrived in New York with his portfolio and $40 in his pocket. He worked as a graphic designer for The New York Times and, later, as art director at an ad agency.
Carle and his late wife, Bobbie, founded the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., in 2002 as “a place for young visitors’ very first visit to a museum, preparing them to develop the habits of museum going and discovery.”
Carle continued to draw with water colour crayons even as words sometimes failed him, and his caregiver wrote a post on the family website that accompanied those done between January and May. On a sketch of a one-eyed monster, he wrote “50 cents,” because, as he told the family, “children should know, too, that they can sell their art.”