In this episode we celebrate the genius of Eric Carle’s books and illustrations. This week would have been his 92nd birthday. He passed away in May, but he has left a legacy of great children’s books for our children to love.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today, we’re going to talk about a very special, wonderful writer and illustrator of children’s books. And he is a legend in children’s book writing and an amazing artist. And that is Eric Carle. This week is his birthday. It would have been his 92nd birthday, but he passed away in May just short of turning 92. He will be greatly missed in the children’s book world. I respect him so much because today in children’s books, there’s definitely, well, always there has been an agenda. Children’s books are meant to entertain and to delight, but also to teach. Whatever is on the agenda for teaching children appears in our children’s books, in our picture books. And that is why it is so important for us to be wise as parents and caregivers and grandparents, to choose the books wisely, because there is definitely an agenda going on. And if we don’t agree with what’s being taught, we have to be careful because there is that aspect to children’s books. With Eric Carle, I think his main desire was to delight children, to get them excited about art and about the world and animals and what we can do as people and what God has created us to do. His books are colorful and amazing. And he even has videos where he has taught his type of art which is very unique. He paints tissue papers with beautiful designs and colors. And then he cuts out the pictures and makes a mosaic of those colorful tissue papers to create the picture he’s making. And if you’ve ever read any of his books, you’ve seen that unique style of artistry that he used. We will miss him, and we will miss having new books from him in the future. But we have so many wonderful books to share with our children, thankfully, that he has left behind in his lifetime. He illustrated more than 70 books for kids, and he didn’t even get started in this part of his life until he was nearly 40. He found inspiration for the books he wrote from his relationship with his father. His father would often take him walking for long walks in nature. And so many of his books have insects and spiders and different animals in them. And he attributes that to the experiences he had with his dad. I’m going to choose a few of my favorites of his to share with you, but any of his books will bless you and your children. If you are not familiar with Eric, Carle, I highly recommend that you spend some time at the library and check out several of his books and enjoy them with your children. He has such a way of writing that is lyrical and fun, and you can almost sense that he was having fun as he wrote the story because it comes through in the writing. He was a very creative man and just blessed the world in many ways.
One of my absolute favorite books of his, he was the illustrator of this book, and that would be Brown Bear Brown Bear. And that was the first book that I read that he illustrated, that I used in my teaching, and that I loved so much. It’s a repetitive poem written by Bill Martin; Eric Carle illustrated it. If you have seen that one Brown Bear Brown Bear, What Do You See? And then they had Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear. Since then Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle have put together Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See. This whole series of these books–the ones that are the bears and what do you hear and see, and all of that–those are written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle. And then there’s a really cute board book, Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See, again, written by Bill Martin Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle. So these are wonderful books, very lyrical, very repetitive. Children enjoy listening to them as they’re read, and you’ll enjoy reading them together. You can use so many lesson ideas from these books. There are many lesson plans written for these books. Each one teaches something. Brown Bear, Brown Bear teaches colors. They’re just a wonderful collection of books and a lot of fun to read. And if you’re talking about the five senses, they’re great for that as well. That’s when I used them mostly in school in lesson planning was when we were talking about the five senses.
His most famous and popular book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It was not my first book that I experienced of his, but it is such a neat, neat book.
There’s a wonderful book by Eric Carle called The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse. And in this book, it just goes through the different colors of animals he painted, and they are all different than what they are in reality, like a black polar bear. And the point of the story, even though it doesn’t really say it in the book, is that an artist can be creative and silly and paint, polka-dotted animals or whatever color animals they want as a part of their creativity. So it encourages children to be creative and to have fun with art. So this would be wonderful to pair with one of his videos where he shows how he does his art and then to have the children just have a blast with art and be creative and be silly, and to think outside of what the usual colors are and what the usual pictures are.
Now, he has many, many board books that are written for the very young children in our lives. And they are very wonderful books about, I Love Dad. I Love Mom. And they’re almost all with the very hungry caterpillar. There’s a whole collection of those books. There’s The Very Busy Spider that is very famous story by Eric Carle.
But one of his books that I think is so special and is just different than any of the others that I’ve read of his–it’s called Eric Carle’s Dragons, Dragons, and Other Creatures that Never Were. And in this book, he uses the poetry of different writers who have talked about these different mythological creatures. And so they’re work is featured in this book and then Eric Carle’s illustrations of the different mythological creatures. And I think this is such a wonderful book. It’s unique, it’s different from any other book I’ve ever seen for children. It exposes children to some really wonderful poetry and yet has these really fun, and definitely Eric Carle, illustrations throughout.
One book he wrote is called, well, one book he illustrated is called Animals, Animals, and Laura Whipple actually compiled the information using different animal poems and information about animals. And he illustrated this one. So it is along the same lines of the mythological Dragons Dragons. But this one is about real animals. And I think both of these books that use the poetry of other artists Is just such a unique idea. In this one, there are even Bible verses, there’s American Indian poems, and it just celebrates animals and the wonderful creations they are. And so, these are good especially for your little bit older children.
One of his books that I’ve always loved as well is called From Head to Toe. And this book is written and illustrated by Eric Carle. And in this book, each page talks about what an animal can do, and then the child says, “and I can do that too.” If an animal roars or jumps or touches his head or touches his toes or stands on one leg, then the child can do that too.
One other delightful book he has is You Are Ready: The World Is Waiting. This would be kind of along the lines of Oh, The Places You’ll Go from Dr. Seuss. This book helps children to understand that they need to take a leap into life and to do what they can, that they are ready and that they have many things to offer the world and they need to spread their wings and take a leap of faith.
Many times in Eric Carle’s books, they will use cutouts or clear plastic so that it becomes almost a toy as well as a book. It becomes a tactile experience for the child. And one of those books is Mr. Seahorse. And this one explores the wonderful mystery of the fact that male sea horses carry the eggs and hatch the babies when they’re born. It talks about the mother’s seahorse puts the eggs on the father seahorse’s belly, and he takes care of them. They have clear pages where you can see through to the next page, and it just makes the book more interesting and more fun and more and unique. Many of his books have these kinds of extras that, like I said, make the book almost a toy as well as book. The only thing in Mr. Seahorse that you may have a problem with is it does say the father is “babysitting.” That would be the only thing in the book that you might have a little bit of a problem with. You might want to reword it or talk about it with your children. But otherwise I think it’s just a unique and wonderful little book and the illustrations are so colorful. That’s the thing I love about all of his illustrations. You get that uniqueness of having the collage from his tissue paper cutouts to create the picture, to create the illustration. And they’re all very colorful, but the spirit of all of his books and what you see recurring over and over in his books, besides teaching numbers and colors and animals, and those kinds of things that are the educational aspect of most of his books, you have the undertone, the underlying joy and love for life and for the world and what God has created and just this wonderful uniqueness that comes through.
With Draw Me a Star–it’s a story of an artist who draws this wonderful star. And then the star asks him to draw a sun. And then the sun asks him to draw something else. And it goes through until the artist has drawn trees and houses and flowers and clouds and rainbows and night.
He has a couple books: What’s Your Favorite Color? What’s Your Favorite Bug? And there’s three in that series. What’s Your Favorite Color? What’s Your Favorite Bug? What’s Your Favorite Animal. In these three books? He doesn’t have just his artwork. He features the artwork of many other artists and shows how they draw the different bugs that they love or the different animals that they love.
One other–and again, this is another very unique book is Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me. It’s a great way to introduce the lunar cycle of the moon to children, but it is definitely fiction. It also illustrates what parents will do to help children to realize their dreams. This one is kind of twofold like many of his stories are, and in this one, the little girl Monica wants to play with the moon and it seems so close. It’s a full moon, and she’s trying to reach it and she can’t reach it. And so she says, “Papa, please get the moon for me.” The book folds out in many of the versions of it, folds out where the story unfolds literally so that you can see this ladder that the dad builds to the moon and he climbs the ladder and he reaches the moon, but the moon is too big and he can’t carry it and bring it to his daughter. So he waits for the moon to become small. And then when the moon is small, he brings it to his daughter, and she plays with it and everything, but then it disappears. But before long, she wakes up and sees that another moon is forming. It takes you through the cycle of the moon, the lunar cycle, and shows this father who would go to any lengths to help his daughter realize her dream. So I think there’s a lot we can do with this story and enjoy with our kids and enjoy the fiction of it all.
He has the wonderful book Pancakes, Pancakes that is just fun. And it takes you through the process of how–it’s kind of like The Little Red Hen–that you need the flour and you need the eggs and all these things. And so it goes through the process of helping a child understand all the things that happen to create the meal.
And then there’s the book The Tiny Seed which helps talk about seasons.
He has Rooster’s Off To See the World that talks about friendship and numbers.
His books are a blessing to young children. He has over 70 books to explore. All of them are unique and creative and take a different look at the world than many of us may have done on our own.
On this podcast, many times, I’m talking about how we can disciple our kids as we go through our day–in the few minutes we have here or there–seizing that moment to teach and to have conversations, meaningful conversations, with our children and keeping those communication lines open and taking the opportunity as the Holy Spirit prompts us to teach spiritual truths to our children in these moments as well as teaching just life lessons to our kids. So what I would like to do today for our devotion is talk about how we can jump from reading a book like The Very Hungry Caterpillar to talking about spiritual things.
As you read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the caterpillar starts out and he eats one apple, and then on Tuesday (so you have the days of the week and you have the numbers and you have fruit and you have this little caterpillar and you talk about the life cycle of a butterfly), but he starts out with eating an apple and he’s still hungry and on every page, but he was still hungry. And then at the end, he eats that leaf, builds his cocoon, and becomes a butterfly. With this book there are so many ways we could bring the gospel into this story from talking about how God changes us–we are a new creation in Christ Jesus. The old has passed away. The new has come. Or we could also talk about hungering and thirsting after God and righteousness and after his word. And so I would like to use the verse from 1 Peter 2:2, and I’m using the Easy to Read version because I think it’s one of the best translations to use with children. This verse says, “Like newborn babies hunger for milk, you should want the pure teaching that feeds your spirit. With it you can grow up and be saved.” And we can talk about, as we read the Bible and we enjoy the word of God, we are in a sense eating the word of God. And it is nourishing, not just our body, but it’s nourishing our hearts, our souls, and our minds and helping us to understand God more. And as we read the word of God and we learn the word of God and eat, so to speak, the word of God, we are growing and we are understanding. And then we come to the place where God can change us from someone with no life to someone with new life in Christ. And it is just like that little caterpillar who was so, so hungry. And he ate and he ate day after day. He ate and he ate. And then after he was in his cocoon or Chrysalis, he emerged as a new creation, as a butterfly. And so as we eat God’s word and we memorize it and we know it, we learn about God, and we desire to follow him with our hearts, with our lives. He changes us into a new creation, and we follow him all our lives. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “When anyone is in Christ, it is a whole new world. The old things are gone. Suddenly everything is new.” And we can end with the third verse from Matthew 5:6, “Great blessings belong to those who want to do right more than anything else, God will fully satisfy them.” And in other translations, of course, it says those who hunger for righteousness will be satisfied. We can use those three scriptures along with the story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to change the conversation into a spiritual gospel- centered conversation, trying to use the analogy of eating and growing and changing to help children understand the gospel and that when we are learning the word of God, it is like we are eating it. And it is nourishing our hearts and our souls and our minds, and helping us to understand that we need to be forgiven. We need to have a savior. And that is Jesus Christ. And that longing that is in our hearts can be fulfilled by following Christ and letting him satisfy our hearts and souls and help us to be filled with his word and his righteousness and his goodness, because that’s what he does when he saves us. And my prayer for you and for all of us is, as we share with the children that God has put into our lives, that we will have the wisdom to know how to open God’s word to them, how to use all those moments we have with our children, whatever age they are to build faith in their lives. And to help them understand more about God and his word and his ways. Our world needs it. Our generation is being bombarded with fear mongering. If you watch TV, everything on TV is building fear or trying to build fear in our children’s lives. Every commercial, every newscast, and many of the shows, I just see it over and over again, that the world is trying to build fear in our lives. And we have to realize that fear is from the enemy. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love and power and a sound mind. And I will talk more about that on another episode, but we need to really be conscious of that and do what the Bible tells us–to take every moment, when we’re sitting, when we’re walking with our children, to teach and to impart God’s word to them. In the Jewish faith, they start from day one teaching the children God’s word and God’s ways. And we need to be doing that as Christians as well.
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. And certainly Eric Carle’s books do all of those, the imagination, the emotions, the questions that could come from what he discusses. So, enjoy his books together. I hope you have wonderful conversations and fun times with your children as they experience his wonderful books.
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https://www.carlemuseum.org/ The Eric Carle Museum features artwork from picture books. “The mission of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, a non-profit organization in Amherst, MA, is to inspire a love of art and reading through picture books.”
Eric Carle Art Technique video
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.