The Very Hungry Caterpillar author Eric Carle dies aged 91

Eric Carle, the author of the beloved children’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar, has died aged 91.

Publishers Penguin Kids confirmed his death on Wednesday night, saying: ‘It is with heavy hearts that we share that Eric Carle, author & illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and many other beloved classics, passed away on May 23rd at the age of 91.

‘Thank you for sharing your great talent with generations of young readers.’

Carle died at his summer studio in Northhampton, Massachusetts, with his son Rolf saying the cause of death was kidney failure.

Tributes poured in on social media for the author, whose 1969 picture book The Very Hungry Caterpillar has become a staple of children’s literature.

A tweet from the band The Mountain Goats read: ‘It is impossible to estimate the number very young lives in which his gentle, curious voice has made a difference. Wonder, delight, the comfort of a familiar voice. Thanks, Eric Carle, for unforgettable times with my sons when they were very small.’

Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea tweeted: ‘Oh man, I love Eric Carle. Cannot count the times my children and I were cuddled up, completely enraptured in the glory of his books. He was a gift to humanity. Love forever, broken through to the other side, Eric Carle.’

Mia Farrow added: ‘Eric Carle has died- but he left us the unforgettable Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear- books i read to my children and now my grandchildren. Loving thoughts with his family and very much gratitude for Mr Carle’, while Nigella Lawson and Elizabeth Warren also shared tributes.

Carle grew up in Nazi Germany after his family moved back to Stuttgart from New York, but he moved back to the States after graduating from art school.

After serving in the US Army, he worked as a graphic designer before going freelance as an artist, and ended up collaboration with Bill Martin Jr on Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Carle then produced 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo, but it was his third picture book, about a caterpillar that ate one apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake and one slice of watermelon that became a pillar of children’s culture.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which charted the caterpillar’s culinary journey before its transformation into a butterfly, has sold more than 55 million copies and been translated into more than 70 languages.

Speaking about the book’s legacy for its 50th anniversary in 2019, Carle said: ‘It took me a long time, but I think it is a book of hope. Children need hope.”

‘You — little insignificant caterpillar — can grow up into a beautiful butterfly and fly into the world with your talent.’

Other beloved titles from self-proclaimed ‘picture writer’ Carle include The Very Busy Spider and The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse.

Explaining his process on his website, Carle said he usually began by painting tissue paper with different colours of acrylic paint, before covering it with different textures using his fingers, brushes or pieces of sponge or carpet.

He said: ‘Let’s say I want to create a caterpillar. I cut out a circle for the head from a red tissue paper and many ovals for the body from green tissue papers; and then I paste them with wallpaper glue onto an illustration board to make the picture.’

Carle’s body of work led to him receiving the prestigious Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award) from the American Library Association in 2003, which recognises authors and illustrators whose books have created a lasting contribution to children’s literature.

He was also honoured with the 1999 Regina Medal, the 2007 NEA Foundation Award for Outstanding Service to Public Education and the 2010 Original Art Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society of Illustrators.

Carle was married twice, to Dorothea Wohlenberg from 1953 until 1963, and to Bobbie, who he was married for 42 years to until her death in 2015.

He is survived by his children Rolf and Cirsten Carle, from his marriage to Dorothea, and a sister, Christa Bareis.

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