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.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five 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 was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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96 Responses to The Man Himself, Eric Carle

  1. Oh,my gosh!!! I am so impressed and “jealous”, but in a good way. The museum, the man himself, the talk…how wonderful! I don’t think that I’d be able to sleep for a week:) The Very Hungry Caterpillar was one of my absolute favorites to read with my preschool and then kindergarten students. I used to have the little stuffed animal and must have passed it on to a grandchild when I retired. I bet that you are SO HAPPY that you took a chance on getting in that day, since it turned out WAY better than you could have dreamed!

    • Jennie says:

      You are absolutely right, Becky. Thank you. I keep thinking, what if I had not been on the waiting list? Then I would have been in the auditorium with everyone else, and I never would have had the chance meeting and the hug with Eric Carle. This was truly a once in a lifetime experience. A day to remember. I am SO happy and lucky!!

  2. Mireya says:

    This is so awesome. I always loved this book but recently I read the book about his life and oh I giggle smiled and have saved all of these bits of texture that didn’t work out and I am so excited to create a book about animals.

  3. Norah says:

    How wonderful, Jennie. I have no words. I just think this would have been the most marvellous experience. You’d want to wrap yourself up in the warmth of these memories, like a cocoon. And what a lovely greeting from Eric Carle. It’s nice that he shows appreciation for his audience.

  4. I love The Hungry Caterpillar, Jennie. How lovely for you to have met the author and interacted with him too.

  5. Ritu says:

    That is just awesome Jennie!!!!

  6. How neat!!! I am also very happy to hear what he is like as a person.

  7. Meg says:

    Great post, Jennie – reading it was like being there with you. I admire how you really go the distance, literally, don’t give up, are adventurous, curious and appreciative … all those same qualities you pass on in your classroom!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Meg. I truly appreciate your kind words. They call me the glass-half-full, and I am. If I can pass along a spirit of adventure and curiosity to children, that’s a good thing!

  8. TanGental says:

    I’m in awe, jealous simply doesn’t do my emotions justice! One of the great children’s books and you touched the hand of the creator! Gulp. Swoon. I used to dream of meeting Hergé
    , he of Tintin simply to thank him for getting me into reading and books. I could feel that in Mr Carle

    • Jennie says:

      I gulped, swooned, and more! This day topped the chart on my dream-o-meter. You said it well Geoff, touching the hand of the creator. Sigh! All those words I wanted to say, like ‘thank you’, were locked in my heart and couldn’t be spoken. It’s amazing what a smile and a hug can do. Hearing him talk about creating his book gave life to the man I have admired for decades. Thank you!

  9. What an honor Jennie Something you will never forget.:)

  10. Opher says:

    What a wonderful experience – cherish that book and those memories.

  11. beetleypete says:

    The joy of your visit and meeting was leaping from the screen, Jennie.
    It was very infectious, and made me feel it too! 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

  12. frenchc1955 says:

    Jennie, thank you so much for sharing a wonderful event and story!

  13. Darlene says:

    Lucky you, not just for getting to hear him speak but to get a hug!! You won’t forget this occasion. Wait till you tell the children.

    • Jennie says:

      A day to remember for sure! I was one lucky lady. Had I not been on the wait list, I never would have been in the exhibit at that time, and never would have had the moment and hug with Eric Carle. Things happen for a reason. I can’t wait to tell the children!! 🙂

  14. ren says:

    You are very blessed Jennie! Of course you were going to get in to see him talk. I had no doubt! Grinz to you! But you surprised me with that wonderful sneak hug you got from him and how it all unfolded. That was super special timing! I just LOVE it! I am elated for you and look forward to your next ‘author’ adventure. What fun!!!
    I have also nominated you for an award….

    • Jennie says:

      I really feel blessed and quite lucky, Ren. The surprise meeting was a moment of a lifetime. Thank you so much! And, I am honored to be nominated for an award. While I usually don’t pass it along, I am truly thankful. I will reply to your post soon. 😀

  15. What a treat! I would love to have had the opportunity to meet Eric Carle. How lucky you were!!

  16. He walked in and knew your heart. It radiates to all that are receptive. Obviously, he is also a man of great heart. I am tickled pink for you. I feel your joy. You make is so very clear. I think I’ve bought that book for several small people in my day. I was the book grandma, aunt or friend. I bought no toys, only wonderful books and I know I’ve read it to at least one child. This is a memory that fills the soul and you carry it in you forever. I am so happy for you. It was destined. 😉

    • Jennie says:

      Marlene!! I have been racking my brain trying to pinpoint just why he embraced me, and you have hit the nail on the head. As soon as I read your words I knew down deep inside that you were exactly right. He walked in and knew my heart. Yup! Destiny. He does know this sort of thing, a man of great heart, and that’s why he’s such a wonderful author. So, thank you very much for answering the question in my head. You always do that. You just ‘know’, much like Eric Carle himself. And yes, joy! Like you, I am the book gifter instead of the toy gifter. And as you know, this book is a treasure. A hundred thank yous, my friend. 🙂

  17. Dan Antion says:

    What a great day this had to be for you Jennie. I am very happy that you made it in, but thrilled that got a hug!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Dan. It was a #1 for sure. I was lucky to be on the wait list and therefore be practically alone in the exhibit. Feels like destiny. And that was before the big presentation. Big wow all the way around. 🙂

  18. Jennie.. this was a most beautiful day for you and what a privilege encounter… Another most memorable day… Brilliant.. and I am sure deep inside you manifested this… And he responded in kind.. 🙂 Wonderful…. You can tell I enjoyed I think LOL.. ❤

  19. Super, Jennie. I’ll bet Eric enjoyed the day as much as you.

  20. I’m thrilled for you, Jennie! What an unbelievable experience and special memory! Susan

  21. Aww what a great day for you. One to stay in the heart for ever.

  22. L. Marie says:

    What a wonderful experience, Jennie. I would have been a total fan girl. So glad you recorded that for your blog. I want to get that anniversary book! I know so many parents who will want that for their children.

  23. This book is such a testament to what pictures and words together can communicate. Wonderful.

  24. a moment you won’t soon forget Jennie! Destiny!

  25. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    I am catching up with posts that I missed in the last couple of weeks and was delighted to read this by Jennie Fitzkee, who not only got to meet one of her literary idols but also got a surprise! Head over and enjoy this wonderful post about Jennie’s encounter with the legendary Eric Carle.. author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar #recommended

  26. What a wonderful experience, Jennie! 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing… xo

  27. jaimeburkink says:

    Hi Jennie. I am a new follower of your blog and have enjoyed reading your posts! I was so excited to read about your experience in meeting Eric Carle and about his book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar! I didn’t know that his book was 50 years old! I am going to keep my eye out for the special 50th edition! It was also interesting to read about how the book was created and I had always been curious about the holes in the book! Thanks for sharing your experience with us!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Jaime. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Eric Carle post, and my blog. I had not realized the book was 50 years old either. Like you, I was fascinated to learn how the book was made. The anniversary edition has a golden cover, so you’ll know it when you see it. Best to you, and thank you for your lovely comments.

  28. dgkaye says:

    Just wow! What an awesome experience Jennie! 🙂

  29. Oh my gosh, how very special! I kept reading and wondering ‘will she get in?’ and then the HUG threw me for a huge surprise. So happy you had such an amazing day with great pictures, a signed book, and a full heart to show for it!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Marcia. It was a magical moment suspended in time. Had I not been on the wait list, I would have been in the auditorium and missed him and the big hug. Meant to be! And then getting in to hear him speak was the icing on the cake. A day to remember! 🙂

  30. Wow, for some reason, I knew the book had been around a long time, but had no idea it was that old. So wonderful and I agree that all the children I worked with always loved it. I found some fabric with The Hungry Caterpillar motifs on it and it was part of my covering on my car too! Not sure I could post photos of my car here, but it was on my roof and one side of the car too. This sure made me smile happily!

    • Jennie says:

      That is wonderful, Anne. The Eric Carle Museum has a VW bug painted like The Very Hungry Caterpillar right out front. So cool! It is a classic book, and all children love it. I am still surprised to realize the book is 50 years old.

      • Incredible, and it looks so contemporary. I wish I had a way to show you the photo of my car. You would be amazed. All the fabrics I used on it were different, and some from different countries too. They were all from my quilting scrap bag. I remember I made a 3′ square on batting I painted, and we drew around the children’s hands and made them out of different colors to represent their backgrounds. I painted a world in the center and the children’s first names were on their hands. We submitted it to a lady who covered a prominent former gas station in New York with the 3′ squares from all over. It was a lot of fun for the children and I had fun making it for them all. I sure do miss the children every single day!

      • Jennie says:

        Your description is terrific, and I can imagine what your car looked like. So wonderful! Thank you!! I bet you miss those children. 🙂 Thanks so much Anne.

  31. The JK Rowling of the toddler set! What a star…

  32. sjhigbee says:

    Oh my goodness! What an incredible event… Eric Carle! I have used his books with both my children and grandchildren…

  33. Pingback: Sunday Post – 14th October, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost | Brainfluff

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