Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, dies aged 91

Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, dies aged 91

Eric Carle, the beloved author and illustrator best known for The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Puffin), has died aged 91. 

His son Rolfe told the New York Times his father had died in Northampton, Massachusetts, of kidney failure, last Sunday, 23rd May. 

In a statement they said: "In the light of the moon, holding on to a good star, a painter of rainbows, is now traveling across the night sky."

Francesca Dow, m.d. at Penguin Random House Children’s, paid tribute to Carle today. She said: "With the sad news of Eric Carle’s passing, our condolences go out to Eric’s family: his immediate family, his creative family, and his very enormous family of readers around the world. 

"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."

Carle sold 5.7 million books in the UK  for £32.1 million from 1998 onwards, when Nielsen records began. The 1994 edition of his bestselling book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, shifted 1.5 million print copies in the UK alone, according to Nielsen.

There have since been a number of spin-offs, gift sets, puppet books and buggy books. Altogether, The Very Hungry Caterpillar sold 3.5 million books across all editions since 1998 in the UK. 

Waterstones children’s buyer, Florentyna Martin, told The Bookseller: “Those who find joy in books feel a deep, nostalgic gratitude to Eric Carle and the insatiable creature whose food-filled journey marked our early childhood with such intrigue and colourful collages. It is deeply sad to hear of Carle’s passing, but without a doubt his legacy lives on.”

Carle was born in Syracuse, New York in 1929. He moved with his parents to Germany when he was just six years old, but eventually returned to America where he found a job as a graphic designer in the promotion department of the New York Times. Later, he was the art director of an advertising agency for many years. 

He only began writing children's books in his late 30s when author Bill Martin Jr called to ask Carle to illustrate a story he had written. His eye had been caught by a striking picture of a red lobster that Eric had created for an advertisement. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Puffin) was the result of their collaboration and launched his career.