Renowned author Eric Carle explores the undersea world of fatherhood
Did you know some fish fathers wear their unhatched eggs on their heads? Or that some fish dads carry their babies on their bellies? Just in time for Father's Day comes a delightful story of fatherly love by a much-loved writer himself, award-winning author/illustrator Eric Carle.
Carle, perhaps best known for his classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, delights audiences with an unexpected tale of the joys of fatherhood in his latest book, Mister Seahorse. In this underwater excursion, Carle enlightens the reader with insights into the important roles some fish fathers play in raising their young. Along the way, we are greeted with surprising and wonderfully depicted examples of fish behavior, and we learn a valuable lesson about the love between parent and child.
"I've always been fascinated by the facts and details of plants and animals," says Carle, who is still creating remarkable children's books at the age of 75. "And it just seemed like an interesting and remarkable thing to me that in some fish families, such as with the seahorse and others in my book, the eggs and young are cared for in such unexpected ways by the fathers." In Mister Seahorse, we learn that the male seahorse incubates his family's unhatched eggs in the pouch of his belly, that the male tilapia carries his family eggs in his mouth until they hatch, and that the male stickleback tends his family nest until his baby sticklebacks are born.
Carle's interest in nature seems to have hatched from his own father. "My father was a nature lover and he used to take me on walks in the woods when I was just a little boy," recalls Carle. "He'd lift up a rock and show me the small creatures who lived underneath. I think in my books I honor my father by writing about small living things, and in a way I recapture those happy times."
The author's idea of family roles, however, may have been shaped by more than just his father. Carle, who was born in Syracuse but spent much of his childhood in Germany, grew up with the loving support of not only his immediate family, but an extended family of aunts, uncles and grandparents, all living within the same four-family complex. "Living in such close proximity to my family members provided me with so much in terms of a sense of history and belonging," says Carle, who now makes his home in Northampton, Massachusetts. "I always had a sense of being loved and cared for by a number of significant people."
Carle's own role as a divorced father of two now-grown children also played a role in the writing of the book. Although Carle's children lived with their mother during most of their childhood, they would stay with Carle on weekends. "My time with my children during those years probably informed my sense of myself as a parent in a different way," the author recalls.
But Carle's books aren't just about serious stuff like family values and nature's complexities. "What I do is try to entertain and delight the child in me," Carle admits. "If a little bit of learning happens along the way, so be it." And nowhere is that approach more apparent than in his illustrations.
Carle's books are known for their unexpected and distinct designs, pictures and textures. From the die-cut pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar to the twinkling lights of The Very Lonely Firefly to the lifelike sounds in The Very Quiet Cricket to his latest foray into collage acetate pages in Mister Seahorse, every one of Carle's books has its own unique design element. "My background is in design and with each book I try to include something a little different," says Carle. For this artist, regular paper pages just won't do. "I need to have a fold or a hole, or something elseanything to change that flat sheet any way I can."
It is this ability to create such unique designs that has made Carle a world-renowned artist. Over the past 35 years, the name Eric Carle has graced the covers of more then 60 books, but more recently a larger structure has borne his name. Two years ago, Carle and his wife opened the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. "It has been our hope that the museum will help to promote the importance of picture books and picture book art as a valuable art form," he says. Now that the museum has reached its second year of successwith exhibitions by artists such as Maurice Sendak, Mitsumasa Anno, and many moreCarle has redirected his attentions.
"Last year, I made a decision to retire from the business end of my work and focus my energies on the creative work of making books," he says. "I feel very lucky to be able to make my pictures and write my stories, to do the work that I love." It seems that for Carle, creating children's books never gets old. "At heart, I am still a child and this is part of why I continue to enjoy my work."