Meeting an Author

Last week I met Eric Carle. Let me say it a little louder, “Last week I met Eric Carle!”  The man, a world renowned children’s author and illustrator, is 88 years old.  His history is fascinating.  So is he.

My author bucket list started to grow when Peter Spier died this year.  His Star-Spangled Banner, Circus, and Rain books have been staples in my classroom for decades. I always meant to write and tell him so…  His death was my wake-up call.

And then I learned that Eric Carle would be speaking with Annie Lionni, granddaughter of Leo Lionni.

Woah!  Leo Lionni, as in Swimmy, the first book I ever read aloud in my classroom.  The book that changed my life in teaching.

I think you get the picture.

In order to understand this event, here is the back story, well my back story:

I have been reading Eric Carle’s books to children for over thirty years. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic.  So is Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  The list of his books I have read aloud is a long one.  Then fifteen years ago the Eric Carle Museum opened, a museum dedicated to the art of children’s book illustrators.  Oh yes, I have seen their exhibits which have displayed the original art of Madeline and Make Way For Ducklings (just for starters), beloved books I’ve read hundreds of timesThere’s a long list of art illustrations displayed at the museum, and it’s a good list.

When visiting the museum, I learned about Eric Carle’s life.  He was born in Germany, came to the U.S., and then returned to Germany with his family in the 1930’s.  Not a good time in history to be in Germany.  He was shown “forbidden art” by his art teacher- the art of Monet, Picasso, Matisse, and Kandinsky.  That changed his life in art.  It changed my passion in teaching art to children, too.

Then after the war, Eric Carle came to America when he was in his 20’s.  That is where the event last week with Annie Lionni begins:

The brown suitcase on stage is what he had when he arrived in New York City, filled with advertising posters he had done for theaters.  And so began a conversation of fascinating stories, told with wit and humor, along with Annie Lionni.  The audience was captivated hearing this man speak.  I was front row center, the 50-yard line, right behind home plate.

When Eric Carle arrived in New York City, he saw a copy of Fortune magazine, was struck by the art on the cover, and noticed the signed name at the bottom: Leo Lionni.

“I went to a pay phone booth and looked up his name in the phone book.  I telephoned and Leo actually answered the phone.  He said he would be happy to meet me and gave me directions.  Can you imagine my luck?”

Leo Lionni gave Eric Carle his first job.  It was art for advertising.  Children’s books weren’t on the radar for either man until many years later.  Time went by, and Eric Carle was in New York and called Leo Lionni to get together.  This is the story he told Annie, on stage:

“I called Leo and asked if he could meet me on Tuesday.  “No, I cannot on Tuesday”, he said.  “How about Wednesday?”, l asked.  “No, I cannot”, he said.  “Can you meet me on Thursday?”, I asked.  Leo replied, “No, I cannot.”  I was hurt.  I was deeply hurt.  I did not understand why.  Years later when Leo was close to dying a friend called me and said I should go and see him.  I still had so much hurt inside.  I did not go and see him.  What I did not know at the time back then, was that his son had died.  That is my only regret in life, that I did not see Leo again.”

Eric and Annie shared stories about writing and illustrating children’s books.

  • Lionni’s book, Inch by Inch, was Eric Carle’s favorite book.
  • Unlike most artists, they both understood that white is a color and used it in illustration.  They were both instrumental in using collage art.
  • When Carle’s agent asked him to write a children’s picture book he said “No!”  (The audience howled with laughter!)  Finally he did, and it was a counting book.  Since there were many counting books on the market, his editor said, “Add something that stands out.”  He did!  1, 2, 3 to the Zoo, with animals getting into train cars on the way to the zoo and then out of train cars at the zoo, actually is both an adding and subtracting book.  The rest is history.

Every story was delightful and engaging.  The audience and Eric Carle and Annie Leonni were one.

Afterwords in the lobby I was asked if I would like to meet Carle (gulp!)  I thanked him and told him what a difference he has made in my classroom- in both children’s books and art.  I told him that his discovery and love of modern “forbidden” art has inspired me to really teach art to children and learn about artists, like Eric Carle.  He smiled and nodded with understanding.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in art, Author interview, Early Education, Eric Carle, Leo Lionni, museums, picture books, storytelling, Teaching young children and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

73 Responses to Meeting an Author

  1. Ritu says:

    What an amazing experience!!!!

  2. Darlene says:

    How wonderful for you to meet this incredible man!

  3. beetleypete says:

    Sounds like a memorable event, Jennie. Not only did you have a great seat, you got ‘backstage privileges’ too!
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. This sounds like an incredible experience, Jennie. As Richard Scarry says “the best artists are children’s books artists.”

  5. frenchc1955 says:

    Reblogged this on charles french words reading and writing and commented:
    This is a wonderful blog about meeting an author!

  6. How exciting! I LOVE Eric Carle’s books. I own most of them, since I use them during speech and language therapy with my students. The children are absolutely captivated by his books. My favorite is Brown Bear, Brown Bear. I like to read and sign it at the same time. The children always enjoy it! Great post, Jennie!!🙂

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Tonya. It was SO exciting! Last year we made Eric Carle style paper, straight from how their art studio does it. Then we made a giant Brown Bear, Brown Bear collage and sent it to the museum. They hung it in their art studio for a while. Tonya, I need to sign Brown Bear, Brown Bear. Brilliant idea. Thank you!

  7. L. Marie says:

    Oh my! I would have turned into a total fan girl had I met Eric Carle. I love his books.

    I totally made a fool of myself when I met Sharon Creech and Chris Van Allsburg. I was so giddy!

    • Jennie says:

      I was beside myself. His age and reputation was like meeting the Queen of England. I’m not so sure I could control myself as much meeting Chris Van Allsburg.

  8. Micki Peluso says:

    This is an really interesting blog. All your blogs are. I wrote my first children’s book but not being an artist really hurts as illustrators are expensive.

  9. matichuk says:

    Great Post! My now 8-year-old girl decided that Carle was her favorite illustrator when she was six. In addition to the classics you listed above, we spent a lot time with Dragon, Dragon (which is miscellany of mythical creatures).

  10. Meg says:

    What a marvellous, fulfilling experience, Jennie. What a gift! M

  11. How exciting, Jennie. I can’t think of anyone I know who hasn’t read a Carle book. What a treat to meet him 😀

  12. Doris says:

    I agree. This is a wonderful blog. I,!as well as the children in my PreK class, loved his books. Wish I had known his back story before. Thank you for the enlightenment. Better late than never!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you Doris. So glad you like my blog. I did not know his back story until my first visit to the museum. Fascinating! The first exhibit I saw was Ezra Jack Keats. The Snowy Day illustrations are made from cut out linoleum!

  13. Ahhhh, such a fine example of the interconnectedness of our lives…I got tingles reading this account.
    Jennie, what a precious encounter.

  14. Wow, what a great program that must have been. I am green with envy (and you got to talk to him, too!). I wish I lived closer to the museum and could take advantage of all their wonderful offerings throughout the year. (Although this one sounds like it was definitely worth traveling a ways..) Thanks for sharing your special experience, Jennie!

    • Jennie says:

      Thanks, Marcia. It was fantastic. He was such an engaging speaker with great stories. When I know of author events I will let you know. Please do the same!

  15. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Tuesday August 1st 2017 – Kosher Kitchen, Jennie Fitzkee, Sue Vincent, Darlene Foster and Debby Gies | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  16. sjhigbee says:

    What an amazing experience! Eric Carle is a name that is loved and revered across three generations in this family – not to mention around the world…

  17. Jennie, Wow! You are a lucky girl and no one deserves this exciting meeting more than you! Wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing! K D 🙂

  18. ren says:

    Lucky? Is there such a thing as luck? I believe it is more of us all being grand creators and we are just now realizing our abilities.
    Very happy happy for you, Jennie

  19. Tara says:

    An amazing person! My dream is to meet him but I don’t know how that could happen. (I live in Wisconsin.) Someday I hope to travel to his museum. He has been such an inspiration to me! I remember reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear when I was in Kindergarten. I have been teaching Kindergarten now for 17 years. My favorite book and classroom theme is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle is truly an amazing author and illustrator! Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Jennie says:

      Yes he is! Even if you don’t get to meet him, you will adore the museum if you get to New England. With all the children’s books you have read aloud in your classroom (like me), seeing the REAL illustrations is incredible. I’m so glad you have included his books in your classroom.

  20. Nothing but love for the caterpillar man!

  21. Di says:

    Hi Jennie,
    What a brilliant experience and opportunity for you…to have met someone you have been supporting through reading his books all this time must have been unreal!
    I can sense your joy
    A lovely read with my cuppa, thank you 💐🙋🏻

  22. What an amazing experience! I’m so glad you met him and could thank him in person 😄 I love his books too!

  23. I’m so thrilled for you, Jennie! What an amazing experience. Thank you for sharing your story.
    – Susan

  24. What a terrific experience! I’ so glad you got to meet Eric Carle, and thanks for sharing it with us. 🙂

  25. reocochran says:

    BGSU has many children’s book authors and illustrators come every Spring on campus. The program started in 2005, “Literacy in the Park.”
    When my brother Rich was an interim professon at BG, I met four different children’s book professionals, two were my favorites.
    The first one I liked a lot was author, Steven Kroll of, “The Biggest Pumpkin Ever,” or “Valentine,” or “Snowman”. . . (illustrations by Jeni Bassett).
    The other was Stephen Kellogg whose gorgeous, bright illustrations make author Deborah Guorino’s, “Is Your Mama a Llama?” fantastic!
    Stephen Kellogg drew pictures and retold his Harlequin Great Dane’s story called, “Pinkerton” whose heart is melted by a kitty named “Rosy.”
    Rich volunteered us (my grandson Skyler and Me!!) to eat dinner out with four of these famous persons after they spoke at an open and free Picnic! It is held every Spring in April. They are held in Bowling Green, Ohio on campus.
    Skyler would tell the authors or illustrators his favorite parts during dinner and our drive north to Detroit, MI to the airport.
    The first year he shared his love of Dr Seuss and didn’t really say much else since he fell asleep. (Age 3 1/2) We took no photos to create a professional environment.
    The two Steve’s were the best. If anyone wants to have lots of information and free materials, write to Jan Brett. I wrote a fifteen page paper while working on my Master’s and she is a delightful and generous author. I read her version of the “Gingerbread Baby,” “The Trouble with Trolls,” her “Hedgie” books and “The Hat.” The preschoolers loved these, particularly including the hat and gingerbread activities my assistant and I made up. I sent Jan Brett (age 67, so young and productive still! 🙂 a list of center activities and how we colored and laminated her Brett alphabet and her center time signs.)

    • Jennie says:

      That is so wonderful, Robin. Of course I know Steven Kroll and Stephen Kellogg. Love their books! I didn’t realize he illustrated Is Your Mama a Lama? Thank you so much. for telling me the story. I know that Jan Brett has great resources for teachers on her website. Many teachers in my school use them. This may sound a little weird, but I am so child centered when it comes to curriculum that I generally don’t go for the predone stuff. I like her ideas and use those, for sure.

      • reocochran says:

        I really was happy to have had some great experiences, Jennie. Just lucky! You had ones your teaching generated with talent and your own merit. 🌹
        Oh, we just liked posting a variety of alphabets and my teacher asst and I would take things like this to our district meetings and color and cut them out, mount on construction paper, laminate and post above the cabinets or lockers.
        Child centered art projects were sometimes painting The Mitten or The Hat and sprinkling white crystals for the snow flakes on them. We used a few ideas but mainly Jan Brett’s newsletter usually included ideas for at home, too.
        I sent like you do, a weekly summary of all the content areas covered as my lesson plans had to include the Ohio requirements for the subjects daily. I logged on to the state website and reported using their names since 2000 – 2008 the state was monitoring learning in 3-5 year olds. Testing was actually fun! We used two forms, Get It Got It Go was one. Beginning, middle and end of the year measuring progress. 🙂

      • Jennie says:

        So interesting, Robin. Thanks!

  26. Lara/Trace says:

    I am so happy for you. So happy!!!!!!!!!

  27. Paul Beech says:

    Hi Jennie, really enjoyed this post on Eric Carle. Gosh, what a talent, and what a fascinating guy.

    I was fortunate enough to know the late, great Robert Westall back in the ‘80s, one of the most exciting children’s authors around in his day, twice-winner of the coveted Carnegie Medal, for ‘The Machine Gunners’ in ‘75 and ‘The Scarecrows’ in ’81.

    Following retirement from teaching in ’75, he opened a part-time antiques business in the mid-Cheshire village of Davenham, just down the road from my own home at the time. He had a small upstairs sales room overlooking the cobbled forecourt of old coaching inn, and there I’d find him polishing brass ornaments surrounded by his clocks, all ticking and whirring with merry musicality.

    With his silver mane and famous beard, Bob was a big bluff man with a voice that someone once described as dark brown. A man of trenchant views and a born raconteur, he would regale me with colourful accounts from his writing life for a couple of hours at a stretch. Cats, ghosts, war and antiques were regular themes in his stories for older children, though he did write for younger kids too.

    Bob was a one-off, a true original, and he inspired me greatly, as I’m sure Eric Carle does you.

    Thank you for visiting my blog.


    • Jennie says:

      Hi Paul! Thank you so much for your comments and wonderful story. You know what it is like to meet an author. And, you got to know Robert Westall. That is special! It is wonderful to be inspired by another author. Many thanks!

  28. Congratulations on your good fortune, Jennie – and also for your feature in Sally’s Blogger Daily. I would have missed this wonderful account but for that (which would have been a shame!) Thanks for sharing.

  29. How exciting! My kids favorite growing up was Brown Bear, Brown Bear ❤

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