Beloved Illustrator Eric Carle’s Vibrant Ode to Friendship and How It Reunited Him with His Lost Childhood Friend
A heartwarming tale of affection and determination, told by one of our time’s greatest visual storytellers.
By Maria Popova
Eric Carle (June 25, 1929–May 23, 2021) is arguably the most celebrated — and prolific — children’s book author-illustrator alive and a tireless champion of art for young humans. Almost half a century after his beloved classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which has delighted generations of children, Carle returns with Friends (public library) — the heart-warming story of an inseparable boy and girl, and the boy’s quest to reunite with his dear friend after she moves away. The tale was inspired by a photograph of 3-year-old Carle embracing a girl in a white dress in his hometown of Syracuse. Though he never learned her name, he remained enchanted by the mystery and innocence of that early friendship.
Illustrated in Carle’s signature technique of colorful hand-painted tissue paper collages, the story exudes the joyful warmth of Maurice Sendak and Ruth Krauss’s vintage ode to friendship, I’ll Be You and You Be Me, the vibrant adventurousness of Alone in the Forest, and, above all, Carle’s own singular touch.
But here is the most astounding part: After the book was published, Carle’s mysterious childhood friend saw the story and the two were reunited 82 years after the photograph that inspired the book was taken.
Friends comes forty-eight after the very first book he ever illustrated, a 1965 edition of Aesop’s fables. Perhaps poetically, the second book Carle illustrated as a young artist was a small collection of quotes about friendship.
Images courtesy of Philomel / Penguin Group
Published November 19, 2013