I love Eric Carle, and like many others, I was saddened to hear he had died this past weekend.
I own a lot of Eric Carle books. This is because we are an Eric Carle family. Before my son could put a sentence together on his own, he could recite Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? He learned about the days of the week, tummy aches, and metamorphosis from The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Even my one year old knows what to do when the monkey says “I am a monkey and I wave my arms, Can you do it?” (She waves her arms and sort of screams I can do it).
When we sit down at night and read a few books before bed, it’s a relief when they choose one by Eric Carle. The illustrations—bold shapes, mottled colors made by painting tissue paper with acrylic paint—are beautiful. The lessons gleaned from a hermit crab searching for friends to decorate his home, or a chameleon wishing to be different, aren’t overly simple, nor are they hard-headed (although the mom in Pancakes! Pancakes! should probably just make the kids the damn pancakes).
But the actual books they read are several decades older than they are—on their title pages, printed in my mother’s cool block letters, is my name. I am a less careful mother, I guess, than she was. My kids have ripped some pages, eaten others. There are yogurt stains on many, and something very sticky at the end of The Very Busy Spider obscuring what happens on the penultimate page. The Very Quiet Cricket no longer chirps at the end; The Honey Bee and The Robber, which had beautiful moving parts and pop ups, is completely destroyed (sorry, Mom).
The physical books themselves probably won’t survive another generation. But for now we have them, and I can enjoy that my son has begun to read them to me.