Eric Carle: From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Brown Bear... 12 of the late author’s greatest works

·4-min read
Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and ‘Book of Many Things' (AFP via Getty Images)
Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ and ‘Book of Many Things' (AFP via Getty Images)

The author and illustrator Eric Carle, who has died at 91, enjoyed a prolific 55-year publishing career. In that time he illustrated over 70 books, the majority of which he also wrote, and which in total have now sold over 170 million copies around the world.

For those pondering where to start, here are 12 of Carle’s greatest and most memorable works:

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

As a young man Carle worked at an advertising agency, and in the mid-1960s a red lobster he’d drawn caught the eye of children’s book author Bill Martin Jr. The writer approached Carle about collaborating on his story Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and when it was published in 1967 it gave Carle his first major publishing success. “What an inspirational book!” Carle told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in 2019. “The big leaves, bright colors and thick brushes of my former school came to mind, and this opportunity changed my life.”

1,2,3 to the Zoo

After the acclaim that Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? received, Carle followed it up in 1968 with this wordless counting book in which his bright, vivid pictures tell the whole story. Each car on the train has one more zoo animal than the one before it, before arriving at the zoo for a dramatic foldout finale.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Published in 1969, Carle’s first attempt at combining his own words with his illustrations produced by far his most popular work. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was a very big success, selling some 50 million copies worldwide - well over a copy per minute since publication. In 1999, then-presidential candidate George W. Bush named The Very Hungry Caterpillar as his favourite book from childhood - despite being 22 when it was published.

Pancakes, Pancakes!

In this delightful book from 1970, Jack wakes up hungry for pancakes - but first he must gather up all the ingredients and learn from his mother how to cook and flip them. The book has been praised for encouraging children to be curious about where their food comes from.

Do You Want to Be My Friend?

In this masterclass in concise writing for children from 1971, Carle uses just eight words - the seven of the title and, eventually, a one word answer. Along the way his gorgeous illustrations fill out the rest of the tale of a little grey mouse who’s just looking for companionship.

The Mixed-Up Chameleon

A bored chameleon goes to the zoo and wishes it could be more like all the other animals it sees, before eventually realising it would rather just be itself. A sweet book with a message of self-acceptance from 1975.

The Grouchy Ladybug

Published in 1977, The Grouchy Ladybug is so well loved that forty years later in 2017 a poll by the National Education Association listed it as one of its "Teachers' Top 100 Books for Children." It tells the story of a bad-tempered ladybug who challenges a series of increasingly larger animals to fight.

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me

A whimsical tale from 1986 about a father who will move heaven and Earth so that his daughter Monica can play with the moon - even if it means climbing a very, very long ladder indeed. Along with the magical storytelling, the book also teaches children about the moon’s phases.

The Very Quiet Cricket

Carle’s story about a cricket who can’t make a sound is a classic parable about the importance of finding your voice, and drew comparisons with The Very Hungry Caterpillar when it was first published in 1990.

The Very Lonely Firefly

The titular lonesome firefly finds all sorts of lights in the night: a lantern, a candle, and even the eyes of a dog, cat, and owl glowing in the darkness. Eventually, though, it finds what it’s been looking for: other fireflies, and a surprise ending, in this lushly-illustrated work from 1995.

From Head to Toe

Published in 1997, From Head to Toe isn’t so much a story as a gentle encouragement to exercise. Each page features an animal moving in a way that a child can mimic, accompanied by the question “Can you do it?” A great way to get young children moving with confidence.

Eric Carle’s Book of Many Things

The Very Hungry Caterpillar returns along with other characters from Carle’s oeuvre in this 2018 book which teaches young children over 200 important words - from things in the garden to things you can eat, numbers, shapes, colours and even feelings.

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