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Behind the Book

Eric Carle

Eric Carle is acclaimed and beloved as the creator of brilliantly illustrated and innovatively designed picture books for very young children. His best-known work, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has eaten its way into the hearts of literally millions of children all over the world and has been translated into more than 47 languages and sold over 29 million copies. Since the Caterpillar was published in 1969, Eric Carle has illustrated more than seventy books, many best-sellers, most of which he also wrote. More than 88 million copies of his books have sold around the world.

Browse our list of titles illustrated and/or written by Eric Carle.

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Follett: What artist had the greatest influence in your life?

EC: Among some of my favorite artists are Paul Klee (1879 to 1940), with his colorful, dreamlike paintings; and Pieter Brueghel (1525 to 1569), who painted peasants and landscapes of central Europe that remind me of where I grew up in Germany. Other illustrators whose work I admire include Leo Lionni, Maurice Sendak, Jose Aruego, Lisbeth Zwerger, Mitsumasa Anno, Ezra Jack Keats, Leo Lionni, Jerry Pinkney and Chris Van Allsburg. Each of these picture book artists has an individual and distinctive style and approach and each one speaks from his or her soul.

Follett: Where did you receive your training and/or schooling for your life's work as an author and illustrator?

EC: At 16, I attended the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart, Germany, and studied under Graphic Arts Professor Ernst Schneidler, who had trained and produced some of the finest graphic artists in Germany. This is where I first learned about collage. But I have always loved to draw, ever since I was a child. One of the most influential and important people in my life was my first grade teacher Miss Frickey. She encouraged my creative interests at that early age and impressed upon my parents that they must nurture and encourage my talents as a visual person, which they did.

Follett: When you look back at all the events in your life, who or what had the greatest impact on your career?

EC: There have been many "door openers" in my life, including my teachers, my editor, other artists and illustrators. But I think my father and the time we spent together when I was a young child, walking in the forest, observing the insects and creatures we came upon. These times are part of what I am honoring in my books and are the source of so much in my work.

Follett: Do you have a routine that you follow when you sit down to begin creating a story? Do you create the text first or the illustrations? Do have a favorite place that you write and illustrate?

EC: To me pictures need writing and writing needs pictures. A child once called me a picture writer, and that's a good way to describe me. It's the idea that comes first. I tend mostly to work in my studio.

Follett: If a student asked you for advice on pursuing a career in writing and/or illustrating children's books, what would you recommend?

EC: When I am asked for advice I always want to encourage but I can only say how I do it. I can only offer the example of my own approach and experience. And my way is just one approach. But I think you do need to just do it. Draw and imagine, write and paint, scribble. Just begin.

Follett: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is an amazing museum for all ages. Where is the funding coming from for this wonderful resource?

EC: The Museum was a dream that became a reality. It's a nonprofit organization that is supported by contributions from many generous individuals as well as a number of publishers and, of course, my wife and myself. Like most museums, it also raises money through membership, education programs, shop sales, and fundraising activities. The Museum has been visited by thousands from all around the country and from abroad. It is the first of its kind in the U.S. on this scale to exhibit international picture book art. While I am no longer involved in its day-to-day business, I am delighted by its development and I am very proud of all that has happened since it opened in 2002.

Follett: What kind of entertaining feedback have you received from young readers about your books?

EC: Many of the lovely letters and emails I have received over the years ask the similar kinds of questions, most of which I answer in my newsletters and will continue to do so in my new blog. And there have been so many wonderful questions and comments over the years and moving stories as well from parents and teachers. I have also received beautiful art work from classes who have created pictures in a style similar to my own. Some of these are so beautiful I have hung them in my studio. One lovely letter was from a child who said he would like to come and visit me but he wasn't allowed to cross the street!

Browse our list of titles illustrated and/or written by Eric Carle.

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Christopher Paolini
December 2011

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Harry Bliss
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Kathleen Krull
September 2011

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Colin Meloy & Carson Ellis
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Judith Schachner
May 2011

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Candace Fleming
April 2011

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Kevin Henkes
March 2011

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Conor Grennan
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Ingrid Law
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Stephan Talty
December 2010

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George Ancona
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Ken Burns
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Charise Mericle Harper
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Ashley Spires
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Meg Cabot
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Francisco X. Stork
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Allan Stratton
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Mo Willems
April 2010

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Pam Muñoz Ryan
March 2010

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Paula Young Shelton & Raúl Colón
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Eric Carle
January 2010

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Scott Westerfeld
November 2009

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Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers
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Greg Mortenson
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Anne Sibley O'Brien & Perry Edmond O'Brien
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Buzz Aldrin
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Grace Lin
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SE Hinton
April 2009

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David Grann
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Matthew & Jennifer L. Holm
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Terry Pratchett
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Naomi Shihab Nye
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Fred Kaplan
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Catherine Gilbert Murdock
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Check out our most recent interview on Behind the Book

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