TTLG Author/Illustrator Profiles

Eric Carle

Eric Carle

Eric Carle was born in Syracuse, New York, to German immigrants. When Eric was six, he and his parents moved back to Germany. Eric hated the strict discipline of his new German school. Sad and confused, Eric longed to return to America. "When it became apparent that we would not return, I decided that I would become a bridge builder. I would build a bridge from Germany to America and take my beloved German grandmother by the hand across the wide ocean."

It would be seventeen years before Eric returned. In a sense, this difficult period was a great source of inspiration for Eric's later books. As an artist, Eric strives to help children enjoy school more than he did. He says, "I am fascinated by the period in a child's life when he or she, for the first time, leaves home to go to school. I should like my books to bridge that great divide."

Growing up, Eric loved to walk through the woods with his father. He fondly recalls, "He'd turn over a rock and show me the little creatures that scurried and slithered about." On these walks, filled with stories and discovery, Eric learned to love nature. Giving us another clue to where he finds his ideas, Eric says, "I try to recall that feeling when I write my books."

Sometimes ideas for Eric's books came from just fooling around. At least that's how he describes the inception of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. "I playfully punched a hole into a stack of papers. I thought, a bookworm at work! Not enough for a book, but, nevertheless, a beginning."

Eventually, Eric submitted his story about the bookworm, who had been changed to a green worm named Willy. His editor liked the idea - almost. She asked, "How about a caterpillar?" And so Eric Carle's most famous book was born.

By the way, Eric already knows that a caterpillar emerges from a chrysalis, not a cocoon! So don't bother writing to tell him. Eric explains how the famous "mistake" crept into the book:

"My editor contacted a scientist, who said that it was permissible to use the word cocoon. Poetry over science. It simply would not have worked to say, 'Come out of your chrysalis!' If we can accept giants tied down by dwarfs, genies in bottles, and knights who attack windmills, why can't a caterpillar come out of a cocoon?"

The most important part of developing a book, Eric believes, is working with editors to revise it. He says, "You have doubts. You hate it. You love it. You discuss it with your editors. You change it. Finally, at one point you just know it's right. After that it goes very quickly. The art for The Tiny Seed took only two weeks!"

And so, where do ideas come from? Eric likes the answer that his Uncle August used to give. "I'd say, 'Uncle August, tell me a story.' Peering over his glasses he'd say, 'First you have to wind up my thinking machine.' And, as I had done many times before, I began to wind an imaginary lever near his temple. After a little while, all along he had made whirring noises, he shouted, 'Halt! I have a story for you!'" Eric says, "I like my Uncle August's answer to where stories come from. They come from your thinking machine. All you have to do is wind it up."


Books Illustrated: