Popular Children’s Books Author Explains What Keeps Him In His Golden Years

Sumner Park Contributor

The beloved author, Eric Carle, has fans all around the world. With more than 70 published books and 103 million copies sold worldwide, Carle’s sweeping success is barely an indication of his inspiring talent. Last month marked his 86th birthday, and Carle is still hard at work, making books and creating art with his unique tissue-collage style that has become his trademark.

In an interview with The Daily Caller, Carle explains that his creative need, embedded deep within him since childhood, has compelled him to keep alive his passion and share his love of art.

And ceased has it not. Contrary to someone else who might be sitting back in his golden years, Carle’s young psyche remains front and center.

Carle might be best known for “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” which has sold over 30 million copies and has been published in 55 different languages, making it one of the world’s most popular children’s books. The simple language and educational theme are genuine and charming. But the captivating artwork and layout of the story transforms the simple storyline into a book that children can read over and over. However, Carle’s childhood spirit found on each page is what has made his book a best seller.

“The feeling I have inside of myself when I am in my studio making pictures keeps me connected to my inner-childhood,” Carle said.

Some of his favorite memories include nature walks with his father, the person who introduced him to the beauty and magic of the forest.

“He would peel back the bark on a tree or lift up a rock and show me the little creatures that lived underneath,” he said.

But his childhood was not always filled with upbeat pictures. In fact, beneath the colorful illustrations and the bright colors are the browns and grays that mark his difficult transition from Syracuse, New York, to Germany.

When Carle’s family moved to Germany in 1929, Carle was forced to leave everything he cherished behind. One of his favorite memories, which depicts his first-grade classroom full of paints and paintbrushes and big sheets of paper, transplants to a war-stricken neighborhood, bombed by an allied force. At six, Carle was enrolled by the German Government to dig trenches on the Siegfried line.

“That was a difficult transition for me,” Carle said. Though he had always dreamt of returning to New York, Carle’s memories of home pushed him through even the worst days.

While the ups and downs of his own early years have helped him connect with children, his sensitivity to each child’s individual nature has been a gift to classrooms around the world.

“Creating books for very young children who are transitioning from home to school has been particularly meaningful,” he said. “I feel that in a way my books are attempts to make this transition easier.”

Despite the hardships, Carle always found a way to make good, turning problems into lessons through his stories and pictures. It is hard not to smile when flipping through the pages of a caterpillar that eats his way through a hole in the book to become a butterfly.

“When I am creating a book, I try to entertain the child inside,” Carle said. “That is where I always begin. I hope my books will entertain and delight and pass along a little learning, too.”

Some of his unpleasant memories of wartime Germany became the inspiration for many of his books. In one of Carle’s unique documentaries, “Eric Carle: Picture Writer, The Art of the Picture Book,” he said that he remembers listening to the tall tales of colorful relatives who all lived together in one house, “one minute they loved each other, the next they hated each other.”

Perhaps it is his cheerful spirit lit on each page that masks his childhood struggles amid the war, creating hope for the future from a damaging past.

“I think of my colorful illustrations, the bright colors I use in my work, as a kind of antidote to the grays and browns of my childhood,” he said. “I think my pictures are my hope and that the colorful papers are my palette.”

Carle even takes an out-of-the-box approach to use art as a way to take Hitler’s harsh dictum over art- as modern, expressionistic and abstract art was banned by his regime — and make it a learning lesson.

It might not be known that the blue horse in The Artist Who Painted A Blue Horse was inspired by Carle’s visit to his high school teacher’s home, where he was invited to see the work of “degenerate” artists.

Carle was shocked to hear his teacher call the Nazis charlatans that have no idea what art is, but the reproductions of expressionist art made a lasting impression on him. Although he can’t recall exactly what he saw, Carle said that he thinks he saw expressionist Franz Marc’s “Blue Horse,” which later became his iconic image symbolizing expressionism.

The blue horse serves to show his readers that in art, there is no wrong color. “One must not stay within the lines,” he said. The unexpected lesson he learned from his teacher underlies the unconventional colors and illustrations in his work.

Carle’s books provide lessons and beauty for countless of readers, now and forever into the future leaving very little room for any generation gap.

“I’m sure every generation has their challenges,” he said. “But for me, I don’t think about children as a group. I see a child, and a child, and a child. I think it is a scary and complicated world for children and they need caring adults more than ever.”