The Suitcase Lady

Caterpillar

August 20, 2019, 9:52 pm

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Caterpillars don’t usually have birthday parties….but there is one exception. THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, a creation of the beloved children’s book author, Eric Carle, is marking its fiftieth birthday this year. Children and young-at-heart adults around the world have been having parties in celebration of the book’s fifty years in print.

If Mr.Carle’s original idea for the book had materialized, parties probably would not be happening. A WEEK WITH WILLI THE WORM does not have the charisma of a caterpillar with a voracious appetite. Fortunately for all of us, Ann Beneduce, Carle’s editor, gently suggested he turn his green worm into a caterpillar. Wise advice, as THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR has sold over 50 million copies and been translated into 62 languages. In addition, Eric Carle went on to create over 70 other picture books for young people.

Now 90 years old and living in Key West, Florida, Eric Carle’s early life was shaped by an incredible twist of fate. He was born in Syracuse, New York, to German immigrant parents. He writes, “I remember kindergarten there. I remember a large sun-filled room with large sheets of paper, fat brushes and colorful paint. I went to school a happy little boy.”

But then his mother got homesick, and the family moved back to Stuttgart when Eric was six years old. It was 1935 and they returned to experience all the horrors of the rise of Nazism and World War II. He was beaten by his teachers in a dark, cheerless school, his family went hungry and his father spent years in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp. Eric had only one compelling wish from 1st grade on: to get back to America.

After graduating from art school in Germany, he earned enough money to come home to America in 1953. He quickly found a job at the  New York Times. Ironically, he was drafted into the U.S. Army five months later. Because of his German language skills, Eric Carle was sent right back to Germany. His entire enlistment was spent there. Returning home a second time, he worked as an art director in ad agencies for many years.

When Eric Carle was 40 years old, his friend Bill Martin Jr., asked him to illustrate his book, BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR, WHAT DO YOU SEE? As Eric Carle explains, “The happy days of my kindergarten came to mind as I created those large and colorful animals for that book.” From then on his artistic and literary career has had one focus…creating children’s books.

On the occasion of his caterpillar’s 50th birthday, Mr. Carle was asked why he thought his story is so popular. He replied, “I believe most children can identify with the helpless, small insignificant caterpillar and they rejoice when it turns into a beautiful butterfly. It is an affirmation to all children. It says: ‘I, too, can unfold my wings and fly into the world.’ I think it’s this message of hope.”

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