One of the most prolific and influential creators of children's picture books is Eric Carle. This engagingly unpretentious man has expanded our ideas of what a picture book has to be. Many of his books take us beyond the conventional rectangular shape with flat visuals. He thinks of his books as a step between home and school, between play and learning. Most of his creations have an educational element as well as foundations in the natural world.
In his most popular book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Putnam, 1986 ISBN 0-399-21301-5. Hardcover), he gives us pages of increasing size with holes in them which invite small fingers and peeking eyes. A careful look at that book reveals more of his genius. The endpapers give us the color scheme and an apparently random display of white dots but the three dimensional illusion starts with some overlapping dots of color using negative and positive space. The title page restores order with seven rows of dots in layers. That number seven occurs later in the days of the week. The dedication page gives us Carle's ubiquitous sun (it's in almost every book and seems to be his happy face). Although the first full page is exactly that, it appears that the left edge has been torn away to reveal the text. Also, on that page the dot has been slightly elongated and becomes the egg on the leaf.
Carle's illustrations become more and more exuberant as his work develops but he's stuck pretty much to the technique he uses in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, glueing several layers of tissue paper on a white background. He then uses paint and crayon to create more variety of color and texture. Cutting pieces out of that "self-made" paper, he then assembles his creations. This technique gives a vibrant, free feeling to his illustrations.
Pages fold out and double, even triple in size in other Carle books. Texture, which adds a third dimension to the book, occurs in Very Busy Spider. Adding sound to Very Quiet Cricket and light to Very Lonely Firefly keeps our concept of a picture book from becoming rigid, at least when we're in the world of Eric Carle.
Eric Carle was born in Syracuse, New York, in 1929 and went to kindergarten there. In 1935, unable to find work in America, the family moved back to their native Germany. He and his father took long walks before the war, and it was from his father that Eric learned to love the small things of nature.
His father was conscripted into the German army and Eric went to the schools of Stuttgart which were in stark contrast to the brightly lit and lively school he remembered in America. One art teacher, seeing Carle's talent, brought him to his home to view non-representational art, a crime in Nazi Germany. Carle became acquainted with the work of Paul Klee, his favorite artist and went on to attend art school in Germany.
In 1951, Eric returned to New York to find work in the field of commercial art. His father, who had worked in the United States before the war and was still thinking of that Depression economy, cautioned Eric not to take employment for less than $40 per week, a very low wage in 1951. Eric Carle illustrated his first children's book for Bill Martin, Jr., Brown Bear, Brown Bear in 1967.
For many years Eric Carle and his wife lived on a mountain in the Berkshires. They now live in Northampton, MA. For more information about the artist and his work, check out Eric Carle's website at http://www.eric-carle.com/. It's fun and informative for kids as well as adult admirers of his work.
Some of Carle's Best:
Draw Me a Star Putnam, 1992 ISBN 0-399-21877-7. Library Binding.
A House for Hermit Crab Picture Book Studio, 1991 ISBN 0-88708-056-1. Hardcover.
I See a Song HarperCollins, 1973 ISBN 0-690-43307-7. Paperback.
One, Two, Three to the Zoo Putnam, 1990 ISBN 0-399-21970-6. Paperback.
Pancakes, Pancakes Scholastic, 1992 ISBN 0-590-44453-0. Paperback.
Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me Picture Book Studio, 1991 ISBN 0-88708-026-X. Hardcover.
Rooster's Off to See the World Picture Book Studio, 1991 ISBN 0-88708-042-1. Miniature.
The Tiny Seed Picture Book Studio, 1991 ISBN 0-88708-015-4. Hardcover.
The Very Lonely Firefly Putnam, 1995 ISBN 0-399-2274-1. Library Binding.
The Very Quiet Cricket Putnam, 1990 ISBN 0-399-21885-8. Hardcover, Board Book. More about this book including classroom activities.
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