We couldn’t be happier to have the esteemed pleasure to reproduce the colorful art of Eric Carle. His most famous work, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has nuzzled its way into millions of homes worldwide and it’s no secret as to why. We were fortunate enough to get to bring to light some of the magic behind the curtain. Here’s what we found:
Oopsy Daisy: You’ve been living with this little caterpillar for 40 years! Tell us what you think about the little guy now — and why do you imagine he has been such a popular icon for children?
Eric Carle: I don’t give it much thought really! It’s something I did, one of my books… I feel like children identify with [this] small, insignificant, ugly, little caterpillar — because we are born little and ugly and helpless. [But then we grow up. And we have our own families and our own homes.] And that is the message of the caterpillar, to grow from an insignificant ugly thing into a beautiful butterfly flying into the world. It’s hope and encouragement. I think that’s what’s behind the caterpillar. It’s a wonderful message, isn’t it?
OD: How did a green worm became a beautiful butterfly?
EC: With The Very Hungry Caterpillar, it started out as a green worm. Actually, I started punching holes into a stack of paper, and I looked at the holes and I said, “That’s a bookworm.” Then I developed the story with a worm, and the idea was pretty much the way the caterpillar is – except it ended up with this big, green worm. And my editor said, “I’m not so sure about a worm. It’s not very appealing.” Then we discussed other insects. I said something, she said something, and at one point she says, “How about a caterpillar?” And I said, “Butterfly!” And the book was finished. So often working with an editor, it’s not that you have hours and hours discussing things. Sometimes it’s a little remark…
OD: What exactly makes picture book art “art”?
EC: I keep saying there are good pizza pies and bad pizza pies, there are good dentists and bad dentists, and there’s good art and there’s bad art, and there’s good picture book art and there’s bad picture book art. Just by saying picture book art doesn’t make it good.
OD: What do you think is the key to reaching children through picture book art?
EC: Well, all children, first of all, are artists and are creative, and [books] for young children start with pictures only, and then gradually words are added to it. So the picture is the first thing of a book, and I think it stays with children for a long time, those early pictures. I remember the earliest things in my life, and they still are with me.
OD: If you had a chance, what other artists/ author would you like to collaborate with?
EC: I have been very fortunate in my collaborations, in particular with Bill Martin Jr from whom I learned a great deal about the heartbeat rhythm of the words in a story and creating books for children. But over the years I have come to discover that I enjoy both story and illustration and that my non-collaborative books seem to ring more true to my own creative expression.
OD: If you could be any animal from your books what would you be and why?
EC: I love all animals and can see how each creature is unique and appealing in their own way. But I am retired and while I am still at work on projects in my studio, I might like to be the sloth from my book “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth” and have a lazy day every once and a while.
OD: When you are VERY HUNGRY what do you like to eat?
EC: Well, I love good food. And I have always fantasized about being a chef! I like the idea of cooking up delicious dishes and tasting and testing all of the flavors. But two of my favorite foods are dark chocolate and Black Forest honey. During the war, when I was a child, food was scarce and pancakes was a meal my mother could make out of simple ingredients. One egg, a cup of flour, and so forth. These foods were still obtainable. And even though it was simple food, when all the ingredients were combined and fried in a pan, topped with strawberry jam, it was a special treat.