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.”
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?”
“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.