Eric Carle, Author and Illustrator of ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’ Dead at 91

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Eric Carle, revered by generations reared on his children’s books including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has died. He was 91. He died on Sunday at his summer studio in Northampton, Massachusetts from kidney failure, as The New York Times reports.

Carle wrote and illustrated more than 70 children’s books over the course of his career. His best-known work, 1969’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has sold more than 55 million copies worldwide. In the classic picture book, his iconic green titular character with a vibrant red head eats its way through the colorful illustrated food in the book, leaving behind physical holes in the pages.

Eric Carle Jr. was born on June 25th, 1929 in Syracuse, New York to German immigrants. They moved to Germany when he was 6. He studied typography and graphic art at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. In 1952, he returned to the U.S., moving to New York City with only $40 to his name, according to his website. He worked as a graphic designer and later served as an art director of an advertising agency.

Educator and author Bill Martin Jr. came across one of Carle’s illustrations, an advertisement of a red lobster, and he approached Carle to illustrate a book he had written. In 1967, their collaboration Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was released and with it Carle’s children’s book career was launched.

Among Carle’s numerous accolades, he received the prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, now known as the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, in 2003. He earned numerous honorary degrees and in addition to his many other awards, he was the recipient of the Original Art Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators in New York in 2010.

In 2019, in honor of the 50th anniversary of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, exhibitions of Carle’s work were featured in several museums. To mark the occasion, Carle reflected on the book’s resonance in a video.

“It is a book of hope. Children need hope,” he said. “You — little insignificant caterpillar — can grow up into a beautiful butterfly and fly into the world with your talent. ‘Will I ever be able to do that?’ Yes, you will.”