Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 15, 2010

Inspiration at the Carle: In the Auditorium and the Hallway

On Friday my husband and I went to the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art to hear its founder speak about his path through art. It seems to have begun with a first grade teacher in Syracuse, New York, who covered walls with his drawings and continues past recent celebrations of eighty years for him and forty years for the Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle showed a slide of himself as a little boy dressed as a cowboy in titled hat and rakish bandanna alongside a picture of a slightly older boy dressed in neat shorts, suspenders, and a Swiss-style cap to illustrate his journey from the U.S. back to his parents’ native home in Germany. He suggested that moving between cultures, one of which encouraged self expression, and one of which tended to be more rigid, set him on a lifetime of wanting to create links between people, which he did using colorful images from nature that anyone might understand and love.

He also spoke of the boy who loved making friends having to leave good ones behind, and the boy who loved chunky crayons and color being forced to pick up small pencils and rulers. That freedom-loving child who he seemed to lose for a time was one he tried to call back as he worked through the decades, he said, though I’m paraphrasing from the talk he first gave at Harvard College, and was adapted for this appreciative audience. The bridges he built between two languages and cultures continues as a theme, which made me think of those holes – openings, invitations – which are famously part of The Hungry, Hungry Caterpillar. I liked Eric Carle’s suggestion that art may be grounded in and return to formative moments in our lives. He felt changed by revelations he had around age five, and, he noted, made a career of making art for children around this age.

His longtime editor, the gracious Ann Beneduce, also joined him on the stage, and we were honored to hear about ways they worked together over the years as Eric left the world of advertising for children’s books.

After the talk I was happy to run into Sarah Aronson (next to me) and Tami Lewis Brown (on the right), who’d been stalking Eric – no, no, behaving perfectly properly – in the galleries. We chatted for a few moments about how charmed we were, and then fell as if off a cliff, in one of those writer-meets-writer ways, into a conversation about revision. Our voices rose. When I revealed that I was turning a novel into a series of poems, Sarah told me that her novel, Head Case, had first been written in verse, and said there’s something freeing as well as instructive about changing the genre in which you began. I might add nerve-wracking, but Sarah’s positive take helped me strengthen my own. So with thanks for the inspiration: it’s back to work.



  1. Fabulous!!! I love the Eric Carle museum!
    I used to dream about being the artist managing that lovely studio. I was lucky enough to go to the opening of the museum and met Mr. Carle and his lovely wife. Just wonderful!

  2. I used to live (in my mid-twenties) right down the street from that elementary school in Syracuse… but I didn’t know until years later that it was E. Carle’s school — it does still have those big old-fashioned windows that let in a lot of light.

    great that you could be there for the festivities!

  3. I didn’t know you were turning a novel into a series of poems. Apologies for blanking on that, but huge HOORAYs for taking on that task. I’m so glad you had a revitalizing revision chat with other writers.

    You can do it!

  4. I love the idea that certain times in our lives are touchstones that we return to in art. And I love the photo of you three at the reception! Wish I could have been there to talk about revision with you.

  5. Whoops. Forgot I wasn’t logged in. That anon is me.

  6. In between envying you for living near enough to the E.C. Museum to attend such events (I’ve been there once) and wishing I could’ve run into the three of you and said hello, I honed in on your last paragraph and what you said and what Sarah said. I have a similar project in my (nearish) future. Thanks for the writeup and the inspiration trickle-down!

  7. Sounds like a great day!

  8. I remember you blogging about this event, Laura, which was really touching. You do embody the spirit of creativity the Carle fosters. Too bad you’re not just a wee bit closer.

  9. That must be something to see that school. Come to think of it, I guess my school had pretty big windows. No art classes until grade four, but my second grade teacher let me, Naomi, and Heather make little books instead of going out at recess. Which seemed cooler than playing horses again and again…

  10. No need to apologize, Tracy: I’m glad I haven’t gone on and on and on and on about it so much that the whole world knows about my hair-tearing-out and recovery.

    Yes, we can!

  11. I’m pretty confident my own touchstone/obsession is mother/daughter relationships. Trying to work out what wasn’t so wonderful in my own childhood. Oh, my gosh, what I would have given to have you there. But we’ll have our revision talks online. But I’m going to let you have a bit of break after the wonder of finishing your draft before you take a peek at chapter one.

  12. Toby, you’ll have to check the website and see if there’s anything that will lure you off Rt. 91. There is a Maria Tatar talk on fairy tales one Sat. in Sept that I plan to go to, for instance!

    And we’ll have to discuss your revision process! When Sarah pronounced that going from verse to prose or vice versa is instructive, I couldn’t come up with anyone else who’d done it. But sounds as if you are contemplating…

  13. Yes, very warm audience delighted to hear this warm man speak from the heart. Then great to bump into our peeps!

  14. I looked at the schedule and would be very interested in going to that. Have emailed my mom to talk about dates, as we’ve been planning to go back up to the Yiddish Book Center one weekend this fall. Maybe we can make it that weekend. Will let you know.

    I love Eric Carle’s work, and I love your second grade teacher, too. 🙂

  15. I knew you were reworking something “from scratch” but somehow missed the vital detail. I’m kinda like that these days, I’m afraid. Ahem. Very glad you don’t mind my gaffe. 🙂

  16. I find Maria Tatar’s research into folk tales fascinating, and glad you do, too. Also to keep in mind, there’s a show called Monsters and Miracles, featuring Jewish picture books, coming to the Carle I believe mid October, and the opening will feature some related events at the Yiddish Book Center: so if that interests you and the date works out better…

  17. What a great photo featuring three FABULOUS women who inspire me! Thanks for sharing of yourself and your ideas. Can’t wait to read your latest project. 🙂

  18. I had SO MUCH FUN!!! It was great to see you Jeannine and hearing (and meeting) Eric Carle was a memory to last a life time. He’s a genius, yes, but also incredible humble and down to earth. Sarah and I also loved talking to Anne Beneduce. She’s the sort of editor every author (or illustrator) dreams of.

  19. Glad to inspire you who inspires so many.
    And thanks for wanting to read my work in progress: trying to remember there will be words even after I finish crossing out many!

  20. All in all, a great night! So happy to share some of it with you!

  21. So glad you and Peter had fun, Jeannine! I think Eric had a wonderful time, too – and we were all thrilled to see so many old friends here to celebrate his return…

  22. Sorry, J. That last anon was (blog-challenged) me. – Alix

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