Remembering the Life and Legacy of Eric Carle


A look back on the “The Hungry Caterpillar’s” beloved author and illustrator, who overcame childhood struggles to bring light to the lives of millions of young people

Eric Carle, the author and illustrator of “The Grouchy Ladybug” and “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”, has passed away at the age of 91. His passing was announced by his family through Penguin Young Readers and Twitter, although his cause of death is not yet known. 

Carle was born on June 25, 1929 in Syracuse, New York, and at the age of six moved with his family to a war-torn Germany. He later graduated from a top art school in Stuttgart, Germany, Akademie der Bildenden Künste, and moved back to the United States in 1952. Shortly after moving back to the States, Carle picked up a job as a graphic designer at the New York Times, as told by Eric Carle’s Biography.  

Carle’s start in the children’s book industry occurred when author Bill Martin Jr. asked him to illustrate an article he had written. “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” was published in 1967, which went on to enter the E.B. White Read Aloud Picture Book Hall of Fame in 2014.

“I didn’t realize it clearly then, but my life was beginning to move onto its course… [World War II was] finally losing [its] rigid grip on me. The child inside me- who had been so suddenly and sharply uprooted and repressed- was beginning to come joyfully back to life,” wrote Carle in an essay regarding the publication of “Brown Bear”. 

Shortly after his first publication, Carle went on to write and illustrate “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” “I remembered that as a child I always felt I would never grow up and be big and articulate and intelligent,” said Carle in a 1994 interview with The New York Times. “‘[The Very Hungry Caterpillar]’ is a book of hope: you, too, can grow up and grow wings.” 

Carle released over 70 publishings in his life, and sold over 170 million copies in multiple languages, as told by the Washington Post. On the campaign trail, politicians like George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton were known to read “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to young children while campaigning for office [CBS News]. 

Throughout his career, Carle received countless awards from several countries, including the original Art Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators in 2010 and the Smithsonian Institution’s John P. McGovern Award in Behavior Sciences in 2006. 

“To have spent some time with Eric Carle was the closest thing one could get to hanging out with the actual Santa Claus,” wrote “Lunch Lady” series author Jarrett J. Krosoczka on Twitter. “His books and his advocacy for the arts will continue to ripple through time.”

In response to the official announcement of his death on Twitter, former First Lady Michelle Obama wrote: “His work has been read (and re-read, and re-read) tens of millions of times over the years, one generation’s gift to the next. Thank you @EricCarle for filling our lives with so much wonder and joy.”