Eric Carle’s Enduring Whimsical and Miraculous


Many of his letters—letters I misplaced in the tumult of my messy home—were mailed to me from the Florida Keys, where he lived “most” of his final years on Tavernier Island. He had previously lived in Northampton, Massachusetts for over 30 years, but it turns out that he has now returned there, only intermittently.

His health had taken a drastic decline the year before, as he told me in 2015. “I was in the hospital for six weeks” – “stroke, heart, lung and kidney” – and “nearly died”, he wrote. However, he continued to write lively and entertaining letters, some of which were surprisingly irreverent and political. “As far as our beloved leader is concerned,” said Donald Trump, “his grandfather should have stayed in Germany.” He asked me, “Did you know that the “Heinz tomato sauce man” (actually, that “man”’s father) came from the same village at the same time as our beloved leader’s family? His letters were full of odd little deviations like this one that he found interesting.

And he kept sending photos. One was a reindeer with flowers blooming from its antlers. Others were abstractions. One was a swirl of red and purple strokes that looked like lithe creatures on a yellow-flecked background. Another consisted of vertical and horizontal strokes that seemed to challenge each other.

“I bought a red car yesterday,” he told me in the winter of 2018. He said he couldn’t “solve all the new mysteries” on the dashboard, but he looked exuberant like a very young kid given a new toy (I hope that’s not disrespectful). “After cataract surgery,” he wrote, “my eyes are fine,” so he was free to drive on his own. Still, “nature is hurting us,” he said. He had lost his wife to cancer more than two years ago. “I miss him,” she wrote, “every day and hour.”

When her own death at the age of 91 was in the press, many of my readers, old friends and teachers of young children sent me thoughtful emails because I had often mentioned how important her work was to me. It was a first grade teacher in the early 1980s who introduced me to one of the first Eric Carle books and made me addicted. My memory is fuzzy, but the book he showed me was probably “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” I discovered others by him in the classes I visited soon. There was a book about a “Little Cloud” wandering around and taking on different shapes: a soft white sheep, a fluffy-looking rabbit with long ears. There was a book about a lonely mouse – “Do You Want To Be My Friend?” And, of course, there was the adorable “Grumpy Lady Bug” with big black spots on her red shell. And one book led me to another.


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