The Man Himself, Eric Carle

I was tenth on the waiting list to hear Eric Carle – the man himself – speak to a packed audience.  It is the 50th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Can you imagine this childhood favorite book has been in print and a perennial favorite for children, parents, and teachers for fifty years?  I crossed my fingers, took a chance, and made the long drive to western Massachusetts.  The worst thing that could happen would be I’d tour the exhibits, the art studio, and the bookstore.  And that was fine with me.

I arrived early and was warmly greeted, but I simply had to wait till just before the event to see if I ‘made it’.  So, I decided to tour the new exhibit celebrating the book and its artwork over the past fifty years.  And it did not disappoint!  Everything was there.

I have said it before, there’s nothing like seeing the real deal.  When it comes to art, being inches away and seeing brushstrokes is something you have to experience.  And I was experiencing just that, along with a man and a mother and her young boy.  Nobody else was at the exhibit. I guess they were all in the auditorium waiting to hear Eric Carle speak.  I had the floor to explore.  Lucky me!

I walked to the big glass doors to leave the almost empty room, and then, in walked the man himself.  Eric Carle.  We were face-to-face.  Behind him was a group of the museum directors and more, all carrying big cameras for a photo shoot.  For a few moments it was just the two of us.  I had no words.  I smiled and crossed my arms over my chest, embracing myself in complete surprise. He smiled, walked straight over to me, and gave me a big hug.  Big.

Are you getting this?!  

It was a suspended moment.  No words were needed.  Eric Carle finally said, “Thank you.  Good to see you.”  And then the group entered and started taking pictures.  The first photo taken was just after our hug.  My face says it all:

I sneaked behind the photo shoot and took a few of my own.  I felt like the paparazzi as I was snapping photos.

I returned to the front of the museum, waiting to hear if I ‘got in’ to the  big event to hear Eric Carle speaking about fifty years of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  “Fitzkee, number ten.  You’re in.”  Yes!!

Eric Carle’s presentation was fascinating.  At 89 years old he is witty and humorous, and captivates his audience.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar is sold every thirty seconds and is written in over forty languages. While those facts are amazing, it is the stories behind creating the book that I will remember.

“It all started with a hole punch.  I was bored”, said Carle.  He picked up a hole punch and started using it on paper.  “I thought of a bookworm, and created a story about Willi the Worm.  My editor suggested a caterpillar, I said butterfly, and that’s how the story began.”

Eric Carle and the original Willi the Worm.  Note the banana.

Of course there were many questions, and his answers were funny.  The audience loved it:

“Were those short pages of the fruit and punched holes a nightmare for your publisher?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Why didn’t you use the banana in The Very Hungry Caterpillar?”

“I don’t know.”


“Well, it was longer than the other fruit.”

And that was the spark, the trigger that drives Eric Carle – how he creates his art.  Of course the fruits needed to be uniform to work in the book.  No banana.  He became impassioned, wanting his audience to understand his work.

“Do you know there are only four colors?  Red, blue, yellow, and black.  They make up all the colors.  Every color in the world.  Red and blue are complementary colors.  So are yellow and green.”

Then Eric Carle pulled out his box of tissue papers.  Remember the tissue paper that came with shirts in boxes?  That’s what he likes.  Colored tissue paper?  No thank you!  He paints the paper with anything you can imagine, even carpeting.  His box was filled with wonder.

I was struck with the fact that Eric Carle only works on a white background, white paper.  He was firm about this, talking about other books using too much background color.  He is absolutely right, and I do the same thing in my classroom; my color is only in the activity at hand.  The rest of the classroom is neutral and filled with plants and nature.  He understands, and so do I.

For those of us who were ticket holders and ‘got in’, we were given a golden ticket, good for purchasing the 50th anniversary edition of the book, signed by the author.  I was #5 with my golden ticket, in line to get the book, just like Charlie in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” 

This anniversary book will be released next month.

A day to remember.


Posted in art, books, children's books, Early Education, Eric Carle, Imagination, Inspiration, museums, picture books, preschool, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children, young children | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments

Forest Fours

This gallery contains 14 photos.

Originally posted on Playful Directions:
Yesterday was our first official Forest Four Day.  Kindergarten and Pre-Kindergarten spent about two hours exploring our Northbound Trail.  The undergrowth sprouted up beyond our knees over the summer, leading to a lovely, wild excursion.…

Gallery | 14 Comments

The Light in the Toothbrush

This week my Book Bears reading group at the public library had our first meeting of the year.  September is always ‘bring your favorite book that you read over the summer’.  It’s a great way to meet the kids – grades 2 & 3 – and see what everyone likes to read.  I host the discussion, and invite each child to read a page aloud from their book.  It’s a wonderful ice breaker.

I also get a feel for how they read, and how much they read.  My wonderful all-boy group likes dragons, book series like The Boxcar Children, American war history, and much more.  Book series are very popular.  The diversity of interest is exciting.

At this point, everyone had talked about their book, and more importantly talked about why they liked it.  Everyone was listening to each other.  It’s about more than just the book.  It’s about  getting to know each other.  I understand every child, from the ‘I don’t know anyone here’ and the ‘I don’t like to talk’, to the chatterbox.  Somehow, in 20 minutes, we have all become pals.  Me included.

And then something happened.  A boy said that he reads every night.  Another boy said he does, too.  And another, and another…

The conversation went something like this:

A child:  “I read 40 pages at night.”

Me:  “That’s terrific.”

A child:  “I read 100 pages a night.  Well, one time I read 100.”

Me:  “That’s hard to read so many pages.  When I go to bed and read, I don’t read 100 pages.  40 or 50 is what I read at bedtime.  Do you ever read in the dark?”

A child:  “Sometimes I read in the dark.”

A child:  “I do, too!”

Me:  “Do you have a night light?”

All the children:  “Yes!”

And this is where it gets interesting…

Me:  “Do you ever read in the dark with a flashlight, under the covers, after Mom and Dad say it’s lights out?”

A child:  “Yes!  Sometimes I can’t stop reading because there’s an important part.”

A child:  “I don’t have a flashlight.  But my toothbrush does.”

Me:  “Your toothbrush has a flashlight?”

The child:  “No, it doesn’t have a flashlight.  It just has a light inside.  When Mom and Dad turned off the lights and said it was time for bed, I waited.  Then I tip-toed into the bathroom and got my toothbrush so I could keep reading.”

Just wonderful!


Posted in books, children's books, Early Education, Imagination, reading, Teaching young children, The Arts, wonder, young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 70 Comments

9/11 – Kindness Peace and Love Day

9/11 at school is Kindness, Peace, and Love Day.  How do we help young children honor the brave people on 9/11?  By remembering and celebrating how people were united in brotherhood and came together to help each other.  We talk about heroes – firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, teachers…

Yes, heroes.  They are the ones who face a tragedy and find goodness and strength.  We can, too.  Children can be heroes.  There is a hero in us all.

Today we held the American flag.  I talked to a whole school of children filled with big eyes and wearing red, white, and blue.  I showed them how to stand and put their hand on their heart.  We sang “God Bless America.”  Then I asked, “Who is a hero?”  The shout-outs were terrific:

Firefighters!  Police officers!  Teachers!  Moms!

“You can be a hero, too.  Yes, you can.  You can help a friend.  You can spread kindness.  And when you see a firefighter or a police officer, please say ‘thank you’.  So who’s going to celebrate Kindness, Peace and Love Day today?”  Every hand went up.

We then sang one of our favorite songs about America, “Red, White and Blue” by Debbie Clement.  While the song is a book, based on quilting America, it is the children’s favorite.

We will never forget 9/11, and we will always celebrate Kindness, Peace, and Love Day.  Today was a wonderful day.


Posted in American flag, books, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving thanks, Inspiration, Kindness, Love, Peace, preschool, Singing, young children | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

The Best Words From a Child

A child said to me this week,

“Jennie, tell me all the books.”

Surely those are the best words a teacher can hear.


Posted in books, Early Education, Imagination, Inspiration, reading, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Looking For a Good Book?

To start the school year, I always pick a random selection of books for my classroom bookshelf.  Nothing theme-y, just good literature.  Poetry, rhyming, humor, old favorites and new award winners.  So take a look, go reading, and get lost in a good book.

I collected the books late in the afternoon, the day before children arrived.  Most teachers had left for the day, so I was alone in the library at school.  I felt like one of the children in the book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  The only difference was that I was in a library, not a museum.

When I placed the books on the shelf, I wondered which one the children would like most.  I thought Otis, or Dr. Seuss.  Yet, I never second guess or underestimate children, as their minds are always one step ahead.

And the children’s first favorite?  Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems.  As you can see, children are crammed together, because they desperately want to hear this story read aloud.  They can’t get enough:

As we read aloud over the next few weeks, every book on this bookshelf will become a favorite.  They are some of the best.  Each time we change and add books, the pattern and thrill will be repeated all year long – new books, new favorites.

“If you are going to get anywhere in life, you have to read a lot of books.”  -Roald Dhal-


Posted in books, children's books, Early Education, Imagination, Inspiration, picture books, preschool, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children, wonder, young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

Interview with Teacher Jennie Fitzkee!

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by author Janice Spina on her wonderful blog!



Jennie Fitzkee

Please help me welcome teacher Jennie Fitzkee to Interview Segment. Jennie is the first teacher that I have had the pleasure to interview. Jennie is a lovely lady and an exceptional teacher of preschool. I happened upon her fabulous blog and have enjoyed reading about her classroom, students and what she has accomplished with these young children. She is utterly amazing.

Thanks so much, Janice.

My pleasure, Jennie. The stage is all yours.

1. What does a teacher need to do to be successful?
Pay attention to children.  The lesson being taught by you will only be meaningful if children are engaged and interested.  Does that mean the child is more important than the lesson?  Yes, it does.  Let me give you a few examples: A high school history teacher in upstate New York was beginning to teach about the…

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