224 words shaped so many bedtime reading sessions. Bedrooms around the world were greeted with a heart-warming tale of growth, albeit through humour and a spot of seemingly obesity. The story has radiated like the light from the moon, from pages in over 60 languages to beaming eyes looking at the colourful intricate nature of the tale.
“That’s something I learned in art school. I studied graphic design in Germany, and my professor emphasized the responsibility that designers and illustrators have towards the people they create things for.” – Eric Carle
Eric Carle didn’t just write that one book of course. His designs, illustrations and words have appeared in numerous texts. Having dropped his first drawings in 1965, Aesop’s Fables for Modern Readers (Peter Pauper Press), the new-to-the-scene and relatively young illustrator was spotted by educator and author Bill Martin Jr. One red lobster in an advertisement led to a lifetime of colour and creation.
“We have eyes, and we’re looking at stuff all the time, all day long. And I just think that whatever our eyes touch should be beautiful, tasteful, appealing, and important.” – Eric Carle
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was an award-winning book collaboration with the late author Bill Martin Jr. Thereafter cardboard editions, die-cut holes, inflatables, plastic pockets and multiple versions of artwork with words began to grow and filter from Eric Carle to the world. Countless children have lived and learned through rhyming picture books and used string in one of his many creations.
“One day I think it’s the greatest idea ever that I’m working on. The next day I think it’s the worst that I’ve ever worked on – and I swing between that a lot. Some days I’m very happy with what I’m doing, and the next day I am desperate – it’s not working out!” – Eric Carle
The story of the story-teller is ever more remarkable. This was a man, who his wife Barbara Morrison, strongly believed had held a form of post traumatic stress disorder. He’d dug trenches on the dreaded Siegfried Line of a World War II battlefield. He’d seen death at first hand, aged only around 15 years of age. But then, darkness turned to light over the years: “One Sunday morning the warm sun came up and – pop! – out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.” Okay, it wouldn’t have been that simple, but Eric Carle refused to bow down and give in. Years of toil brought his mind to a place where writing was permitted. An audience was earned. From Germany in World War II, he returned to his country of birth, the U.S.A. and found his way from Syracuse to the New York Times as a graphic artist.
“Let’s put it this way: if you are a novelist, I think you start out with a 20 word idea, and you work at it and you wind up with a 200,000 word novel. We, picture-book people, or at least I, start out with 200,000 words and I reduce it to 20.” – Eric Carle
Via stints back in Germany, for the U.S. Army (during the Korean War) he went on to be an art director at an advertising agency. His collage techniques, rich in hand-painted paper, featured layers and slices of vivid imagination set out as tiny pieces of artwork. Nature and wonder have set tones throughout his simple stories. These stories have been warm and inviting, and give hope to children, especially those new to schooling and education.
Papa, please get the moon for me is a tale of great importance in my opinion. It shows us that imagination is wonderful, even if it is breaking something seen as impossible. Whoever told me that Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, or anybody for that matter, that breaks the dreams of a child, deserves a good long look at themselves. Reality and imagination can sit side by side, otherwise Neil Armstrong, or Elon Musk or Celine Dion would not be around. Ability and knowledge need the company of spark and dream – and that’s where imagination grows.
“They are deceptively simple. I admit that. But for me, all my life I try to simplify things. As a child in school, things were very hard for me to understand often, and I developed a knack, I think. I developed a process to simplify things so I would understand them.” – Eric Carle
As I sit typing words and reading about Eric Carle’s history, I recall flicking through glossy covers of his books, and the joy as my face beamed when I discovered a translated copy in Hengli, Dongguan. That beautiful familiar white cover with a caterpillar and a red apple missing a mouthful, all slightly imbalanced, as if to say, and to appeal, that things aren’t always neat and tidy. One day when COVID-19 passes and the world is a little more tidy, I dream to fly to Amherst, Massachusetts to see the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. That would be as good as finding another Uroballus carleion a trip to Hong Kong. The Caterpillar Jumping Spider’s Latin name is testament to the reach and pull of a world class picture book writer.
“My father used to take me for walks in the woods. He would peel back the bark of a tree and show me the creatures who lived there. I have very fond memories of these special times with my father and in a way I honor him with my books and my interest in animals and insects.” – Eric Carle
His hands grip around my throat. He’s strangling me. Trying to choke my last breath out. I struggle. Twisting and turning. I try to raise my left open palm upwards to force his vice-like grip to release me. I slap. No change. I use both flailing hands. Nothing.
Still he pulls his chest towards his hands. My throat trapped between his intended route. I slide and writh but I get nowhere fast. I twist my aching legs, trying to backwards kick his kneecaps. Anything. Any little hope. He grabs tighter. I know I don’t have long left. My throat is burning. Every gasping breath I take could be my last. I push my body forwards trying to open a space between his chest and arms. The Steel-like bicep is sweating on my neck. I open my mouth wide forcing little air in.
I’m beyond desperate. I feel woozy and clouded. My brain is losing a battle. He slides a few millimeters along my throat. That marginal gain gave him the extra he needed. He already had the upper hand. I feel his chest muscles stretch and tighten. He takes a tired deep breath. One heavy pull and I resist the extra force. He loosens his grip by the slightest of pressures. A budgie feather in a fight fit for an ostrich. Can I escape now?
She called. He listened. They talked. They laughed. It gave him warmth deep inside. She spoke openly. He told his story. They giggled. He answered questions. Once. Twice. Three times. The minutes stacked up. Time froze.
He chased. She was busy. He waited. She did not come. He wanted her. She was not available. He imagined. She slipped by. He thought of her. She had no voice. He dreamed. She remained silent. Once. Twice. Three times. It was as if it was a blink of an eye. Time came to a complete stop.
What do you believe in? Is it fairytale endings? Is it a happily ever after story? Maybe it’s pots of gold at the end of colourful striped rainbows? Perhaps there’s a pirate ship sailing through your skies above. Do you believe in love? Is hate something you shove?
Who believes in you? Do they think you’re a prince or princess? Are they your happily ever after? Maybe they’ve seen shining rings of gold? Perhaps they’re buying long dresses and swanky suits for that special day they dream of. Do you believe in yourself? Do you have a heartbeat of wealth?
Why do you believe in you? Do you know your happy ending? Is it flowers and sunshine at the end of your road? Maybe it’s celebrity and fame down your journey of fate? Do you believe in success? Is your life free of duress?
Whatever will be, what ever you wish may follow, but deep down, amongst it all you need to sweat it and bet it. Without a gamble, the adventure can’t be written. Without a step off the beaten track, you’ll never find what you’re looking for. Danger may hurt you but the monotonous life will drain and kill you. They may all sound like cliches, but didn’t they cliche writers have a point?
Your comfort zone: you’ll remain alone or go insane. Your sense of exploration: you’ll adapt or be born again. So, what are you waiting for?
Let’s not dwell on COVID-19 and it’s terrible spread throughout the globe. It’s been a challenging and upsetting year for many. The less said on this eve of a new year, the better. Stay positive.
With trips to Nepal, Thailand (as a Corona refugee), Suzhou and now Yunnan, I’ve been lucky to experience a variety of cultures and religions in different shapes and forms during 2020. All have stood the test of time and all have stories about being adaptable. 2021 for the human race will be no exception. I’ve been lucky to get some travelling in, during this new norm but unlucky not to travel and see loved ones. The future is tingling with uncertainty but when a reunion comes about, I’m certain it won’t be wasted.
Climatic change, political indecision, blundering idleness by an impenetrable elite, racism and divide, disease and worry. Twenty twenty’s themes will carry on into this year as we all live as best we can. The gloom of a serious Sir David Attenborough message should stay with us. As should Amnesty International. Black Lives will always matter. #MeToo? Where changes are needed things will always need to happen. Vaccines and immunisation can only cure so much.
2020 allowed me opportunity. I’ve been blessed to start work at Tungwah Wenzel International School. A few weeks of expensive quarantine and drastically overpriced return flights got me back into China, as others faced even tougher routes to work or pathways no longer open. It’s been a good ride at work so far. I can only see it getting better.
Football for and with Murray’s FC has provided a regular escape from a landscape tinged by trepidation. Having also joined Dongguan Bulldogs, for a few games of tag rugby, and several solo bike rides, freedom has been a privilege.
I’m writing from a cold bed in YuBeng village, Yunnan, China. I’d like to write more but like the new journal in my bag, there’ll be plenty of opportunity and positive days ahead for the writing of new well remembered days. All the best for 2021. Keep hope in your head and heart.
Thank you kindly to everyone who has wished me well today. A few moments of kindness have made my heart feel warm inside. x
If I leave here tomorrow, I’ll travel far on your love. If I need strength to walk on, you’ll carry me further. If I find myself lonely, memories will strengthen me. If I stumble and fall, I’ll stand up once more tall. If all around me crumbles, you’ll be there to hold it altogether. Hope, relentless hope, you’re inside my heart. Dreams big, and small, realised and unreleased, you’re in my company. 38 years and I’m still here. 38 years and you’re still here. The years, we’re still here.