Kids all over the world can list The Very Hungry Caterpillar as one of their favorite books. In fact, the same can be said for generations of kids. The children’s classic turned 50 years old earlier this month. But did you know that beloved author and illustrator Eric Carle, creator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, also contributed artwork for several issues of our award-winning children’s literary magazines?
Actually, there’s a lot that the average person doesn’t know about Eric Carle. That’s why we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of his most famous book with some interesting facts about his life and work!
He did not have a happy childhood.
Eric Carle’s books are part of many people’s fond childhood memories, but his own early years fell short of idyllic. Although he was born in New York, his parents decided to move back to their home country of Germany when he was six years old… not long before World War II broke out. Carle remembers painting with his father and walking through nature back in New York, but he had no such happy memories of his years in Germany. Carle’s father became a prisoner of war while Carle himself was forced to dig trenches as a teenager. He was eager to get out of Germany as soon as he could and returned to New York with only $40 to his name.
He wasn’t always a children’s author and illustrator.
Eric Carle didn’t publish his first book until he was almost 40. Before that, he designed ads for the New York Times, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and became an art director for his own advertising agency. It was a lobster that changed his life. To be more specific, a bright red lobster that he drew for an ad caught the eye of author Bill Martin, Jr., who thought that his work would be perfect for a children’s book. That book turned out to be Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
A daring teacher and a famous painting inspired him.
While Eric Carle was growing up in Germany, abstract and modern art was banned and artists were strictly policed. A high school teacher invited him over to his home to look at forbidden artwork. Then, he said something so shocking that he would have been in huge trouble if he’d been caught: “The Nazis, they are charlatans. They haven’t an idea what art is.” Those words made a huge impression on Carle, as did a painting called Blue Horse by Franz Marc. That painting appears on the back of Carle’s book, The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse. The book celebrates imagination and thinking outside the box– unlike the oppressive environment of Carle’s youth.
Eric Carle’s books are even more popular than you’d expect.
Somebody in the world buys a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar every 30 seconds. It’s been translated into more than 60 languages and has sold nearly 50 million copies. That’s a lot of hungry caterpillars! It’s far from his only successful work. He’s illustrated over 70 books, many of which he also wrote. We’re somewhat partial to The Grouchy Ladybug, The Very Busy Spider, and The Very Quiet Cricket. Can you guess why?
He founded his own museum.
The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, located in Amherst, Massachusetts, opened in 2002. It’s possibly the only museum dedicated to artwork from picture books. Guests who stop by for a visit can enjoy displays by famous artists like Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are) and Rosemary Wells (Max & Ruby), make their own artwork, and be entertained by live readings and performances. There’s also the rare museum gift shop that parents won’t want to avoid. How can you say no to buying more wonderful children’s books?
Eric Carle is only one of the magnificent children’s authors and illustrators who’s been featured in the pages of Cricket Media magazines in our 45-year history! Stay tuned for more profiles of notable contributors, or learn more about our magazines here!