Eric Carle, author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, dies aged 91

The beloved creator of more than 70 children’s books was still making work this spring.

Image of Eric Carle
Eric Carle, Image: Getty

Eric Carle, the writer and illustrator behind The Very Hungry Caterpillar died on May 23, peacefully and surrounded by his family, at his summer studio in Massachusetts. He was 91.

An artist and illustrator, Carle’s career began as a graphic designer at The New York Times. He moved into advertising before his work was spotted by author Bill Martin Jr in a doctor’s waiting room, in 1967. Shortly after, Carle was invited to illustrate Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which encouraged him to start writing his own stories.

Using printing, collage and working with paper and fabric, Carle’s innovative approach saw him creating more than 70 vibrantly designed and illustrated children’s books. Over the course of six decades, Carle’s books have sold more than 170 million copies, being read and enjoyed by generations of children. Titles such as Do You Want to Be My Friend? and The Bad-Tempered Ladybird remain favourites today. Carle made picture books fun, adding cut-outs and holes to his brightly coloured designs.

But it was The Very Hungry Caterpillar that would make Carle a household name. Since its publication in 1969 it has been translated into more than 70 languages, and has never been out of print.

Beyond his children’s books, Carle’s independent creative practice – what he referred to as “art art” – demonstrated the depth of his deeply individual style. Carle drew from abstract and Dadaist artists to conjure his own approach, which involved mixed media. He was still working until the end of his life, drawing as recently as this spring.

His final series was typically whimsical and inventive, with children at its heart: some of the drawings had “50 cents” written on, because, Carle said, “children should know they too can sell their artwork.”

Carle is survived by his two children from his first marriage, Rolf Carle and Cirsten Carle, and his sister Christa Bareis, and his sister-in-law Ria Wiseman.

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