Tributes Pour in After Eric Carle, Author of 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' Dies at 91

Artist Eric Carle, an illustrator and author of children's books, with some of the materials he uses to create the art for his books. Carle poses in a gallery of the Eric Carle Museum. Carle was instrumental in the planning and building of the museum.
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The beloved artist died in his home in Northampton, Massachusetts. His books sold over 70 million copies.

The literary community and fans of beloved children's author and illustrator Eric Carle are paying tribute to him in the wake of his death.

Carle wrote dozens of books, including his most notable, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," which came out in 1969 and has since been translated into over 70 languages, sold over 50 million copies, and has never been out of print.

He was best known for his colorful and imaginative illustrations which enthralled the minds of young children for generations.

Carle "passed away peacefully and surrounded by family members on May 23, 2021, at his summer studio in Northampton, Massachusetts," his family wrote.

"It is with heavy hearts that we share that Eric Carle, author & illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and many other beloved classics, passed away," his team wrote on Twitter. "Thank you for sharing your talent with generations of young readers."

"RIP Eric Carle. I'd like to believe that he's a butterfly now," wrote one Twitter user.

Carle's career started later in life when he was nearly 40. He went on to illustrate over 70 children's books, selling over 170 million copies, according to his publisher, Penguin Random House.

He told NPR in 2007 that his inspiration "started with my father. He took me for long walks and explained things to me."

Born on June 25, 1929, in Syracuse, NY, Carle was a son of German immigrants. His mother worked at a family business and his father worked in a factory spray-painting washing machines.

His family moved back to Germany, where he went on to live as a young man in Nazi Germany. His father disappeared when he was 15, and taken into a Russian prisoner-of-war camp for years after he was drafted by the Nazis, according to NPR

After the war ended, he studied typography and graphic art in Stuttgart, where he graduated in 1950. Years after, he moved back to the U.S. and was hired by the New York Times, later served in the U.S. military during the Korean War, and then worked in advertising.

He said growing up in a war zone influenced his work, which inspired his use of vibrant and happy colors instead of the "grays, browns and dirty greens used by the Nazis to camouflage the buildings," he told the New York Times.

Carle called his book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" a "book of hope" in an interview with his publisher.

He said, "Children need hope."

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