The unequaled Eric Carle left us this year. Thankfully, his picture book masterpieces won’t die anytime soon.
Born in 1929 in Syracuse, New York, Carle spent a lifetime nurturing his passion for art and children. He grew up and was educated in Germany while keeping his dream alive of returning to America. At 23, he arrived in New York with his portfolio and a pocketed $40.00.
Carle’s hand-painted papers that he cut and layered into bright, animated illustrations sealed his individualized style. His timeless The Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into 66 languages and has sold over 50 million copies.
“I do my best to simplify and refine, to be logical and harmonious. But I also try to keep an open mind, to listen to my intuition and allow for the unexpected, the coincidental, even the quirky to enter into my work. Ultimately, my aim is to entertain, and sometimes to enlighten, the child who still lives inside of me.”
The enduring voice of Lois Ehlert was silenced this year, too, leaving a legacy of acclaimed picture books that will live beyond her lifespan.
Born in 1934, Ehlert grew up in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Recognizing her artistic talent at a young age, Ehlert’s parents set up a table piled high with scraps of cloth and wood. Ehlert often told readers that her parents had made a bargain with her: “….if I kept working at my artwork on that table, I didn’t have to put things away every day.” What child could resist that?
After working as a freelance graphic designer illustrating children’s books, Ehlert released her first book Growing Vegetable Soup. She followed this debut with other celebrated picture books: Planting a Rainbow, Color Zoo, and Color Farm. Each one showcased her talent for bold, vibrant artwork and her love for the natural world.
Her release of Rrralph highlighted her use of bold colors and crisply-cut objects as well as her sense of humor and heart for children. Ehlert’s signature collage and paper style ensure that her voice will live on.
“Across the pond,” the talented illustrator Diane Matthes passed from us this year. Inspired by her deep faith, Matthes painted her captivating art on chinaware before illustrating some 22 books for children.
Born in London on Christmas Day in 1942, Matthes, at the age of 20, moved to Abbey Road—200 yards from the Beatles’ recording studio. Now that’s way cool—ya, ya, ya! Years later, she moved to South Kensington and worked at her own studio nearby in Earls Court. Her artist’s life revolved around neighbors, communal gardens, and the church.
Matthes created quite a stir at first painting her animal art with its added scripture. Each of her designs took about 20 minutes to produce. Before firing the chinaware in a kiln, she added a verse of scripture. Her artwork expressed her faith and belief in miracles. Faced with childhood polio and paralysis, she marveled at how “…the Lord spoke to [her] and it was truly miraculous that [she] got up and walked.” Not surprisingly, she once said, “[my] work dovetails with my religion….”
Influenced by Beatrix Potter’s art, Matthes developed her own expressive style, one of charm and delight. Her loveable characters live off the page, vibrant with color and life to become timeless for generations.
“In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf…. One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and—pop! Out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar…. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and…was a beautiful butterfly!” (The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle)
We’re like those tiny eggs that lay on a leaf in the morning sun. Warmed by radiant light, we pop out hungry for life. We nibble our way through ups and downs. We push and press through mistakes. Tackle lessons on the way to becoming who we hope to be. Always evolving. Growing our talents, passions, values, and worldview. We leave imprints of our individuality on the lives within our influence. All the while we wait for our wings. Then…through hard work and a bit of luck, we finally take flight, hoping to live beyond our existence to become timeless.