Eric Carle, the creator of the iconic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, passed away on 23rd May at the age of 91. Here, three of his close collaborators share their memories of the author-illustrator.
Managing director, Penguin Random House Children’s
It is one of our greatest pleasures and privileges here at Puffin to share Eric Carle’s stories and art with children. Eric described himself as a "picture writer" and his genius was in the mix of simplicity and sophistication that characterises his work. He was an artist of collage and colour, a lover of nature and a champion of hope. He also understood the sheer joy for children in sticking their little fingers through the holes in his most iconic book.
"The Very Hungry Caterpillar story is about hope. You, like the little caterpillar, will grow up, unfold your wings, and fly off into the future,” said Eric Carle of his most beloved book. He gave hope and inspiration to us all.
For your very hungry caterpillar, for your beautiful butterfly, for your brown bear, brown bear—we thank you, Eric Carle.
Art director, Puffin picture books, partnerships and illustrated non-fiction
With his vivid colours, bold shapes and cut-out collage style, Eric Carle’s artwork has an instant child appeal that has stood the test of time. It is truly iconic. And, guided by his philosophy—"books to play with, toys to read"—he pushed the boundaries of what a book could be. From the die-cut holes in The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the tactile web in The Very Busy Spider, Eric Carle books are immersive and richly satisfying experiences for children. It has been an honour to work with Eric and the fantastic creative directors at his studio, Motoko Inoue and Mary Mekarnom. In each one of his books it’s clear to see how much joy Eric took in the creative process, and that joy is infectious. We feel so fortunate to be able to share the joy of Eric Carle’s wonderful art with future generations of children.
Creative director, The World of Eric Carle
Some of the most memorable moments I have of Eric are from his summer visits to our office in Northampton, Massachusetts. He would walk through the door with a big smile, wearing his infamous caterpillar hat and suspenders. He would also jokingly “charge” us 25 cents if we asked for a photo. Two photos? Fifty cents. He really enjoyed that joke.
Eric’s awe for what his “little, insignificant caterpillar” created—a true empire—will always stick with me. Any time he would visit, we would hear gentle “oohs” and “ahhs” as he would poke around the new books and merchandise. And then he would walk by our desks, softly saying “all of this because of a tiny little caterpillar.”
It seemed to surprise and humble him every year. He was quietly so proud of what we all created together. That modesty and humility in a person is hard to find. Combined with extreme generosity and compassion? Almost impossible. A rare combination of qualities: wildly successful, yet completely modest. Soft spoken and quiet, yet so quick-witted. Philosophical, but a child at heart. He will be so very missed, but his spirit and his love for all living creatures will live on through his books, his art and his museum for generations to come.