The Education of A Good Picture Writer: Eric Carle Visits Askwith ForumBy admin
Since it was first published 41 years ago, a copy of acclaimed author and illustrator Eric Carle’s children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has been sold every single minute somewhere in the world. Carle, 81, is still surprised and humbled that his work has become so accepted and well-loved by readers and educators.
This week Carle shared his story of becoming a “good picture writer” at a packed Askwith Forum. [Video | Photos] Since Caterpillar was published, Carle has illustrated more than 70 books — many bestsellers and most of which he also wrote — and more than 90 million copies of his books have sold around the world. His work is even in a museum, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books, in Amherst, Mass., which aims to inspire children and families to appreciate and understand picture book art.
“As an educator you can appreciate Eric Carle’s great work on so many levels,” said Dean Kathleen McCartney. “These books are perfect teaching tools. They utilize predictions, patterns, and picture cues…and they foster emotional development.”
However, for many at HGSE — including McCartney — the fondness for Carle’s books goes beyond the educational and into personal. As McCartney shared, referencing Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? “My daughter Kimberly’s first word was not ‘mama’ — it was ‘bear.’”
Since HGSE was the first school of education that Carle has ever addressed, he admitted to being in awe of speaking to a room full of educators. “I know so little about education,” Carle said as the audience chuckled. “It’s true.”
Despite his own education being a “disaster” in which he dropped out by 16, many of Carle’s teachers and mentors encouraged him to pursue his talents along the way. In fact, it was a teacher who first noticed Carle’s penchant for drawing and told his parents to nurture his talent. While growing up in Germany, it was Carle’s father who taught him about nature and perspective in comic books, fueling his passion for art. However, as a pre-teen and teenager Carle did not see his father, who had been drafted into the war.
During this time, Carle’s grandfather encouraged him to be a doctor or a dentist, which he refused. This greatly disappointed his grandfather, who told Carle he’d amount to nothing in life. Instead Carle followed his heart using color, nature, texture, and friendships as muses — themes directly reflected in his work to this day. As he grew older, there were more teachers and mentors, many whom “opened doors” secretly showing him abstract art, which was considered degenerative and socially forbidden in Germany at the time.
By the time Carle arrived in 1950s America with only $2 in his pocket, he had built up a significant portfolio. He landed work as a designer at the New York Times and later at an advertising agency. In 1967, Carle illustrated Brown Bear for writer Bill Martin Jr. which prompted him to leave the advertising business to pursue more creative work.
While working on a cook book, Carle was asked to illustrate more children’s books. He pondered becoming an author himself though he admitted he wasn’t sure about grammar, spelling, or commas, which he quipped was why his first book, 1, 2, 3, to the Zoo, only had pictures.
Today with 70 books under his belt, Carle acknowledged that much of the time his ideas are influenced by the outside and the inside of one’s self. “I really do the books for myself – it sounds arrogant but that’s how it’s done,” he said noting that in 99.9 percent of cases it is more of a free flow process that’s intuitive. To this day, Carle said, Do You Want to Be My Friend? is his favorite, though certainly not his most successful, book.
Although Carle said he felt terrible for not providing “helpful hints that might advance your work as educators,” many attendees took the time to thank him for how his books had impacted their own teaching.
Calling Carle an “amazing educator,” a teacher of 20 years said that he truly is a gift. “Nothing that I have seen in all my years of experience or the three education degrees I’ve earned connects with children the way your work does,” she said. “On behalf of teachers everywhere I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for early literacy. You are amazing.”