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Eric Carle, the Very Hungry Caterpillar author on raising creative kids. On Babble.com.

The next time you read a book to your child, take a moment to contemplate the illustrations. Look closely at the materials used, and the skill involved. Think about how the artist took just a few lines of text and created an entire world. Imagine what the originals might look like.

Or just visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Acclaimed author-illustrator Carle founded the Massachusetts museum in order to deepen people’s appreciation of children’s book art, and to help very young children into avid museum-goers. And by all accounts, it’s working. As part of Babble’s Field Trip to the Carle Museum, we spoke to Eric Carle. The creator of such classics as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? was warm and thoughtful, even via email. Read on for his thoughts on children’s artwork, great storybook artists and that insatiable caterpillar. – Gwynne Watkins

The Carle Museum is dedicated to helping children be creative. What do you find inspiring about the artwork of children?

It may be the colors, or the shapes. Or the combination of the two. But often children’s art is expressive in a way adult artists have to work very hard to achieve. We have to unlearn so much to be like children; to be closer to pure creativity.

How can parents help children to nurture their creative side?

My feeling is that if you show an interest in your child’s reading, drawing, dancing, music-making, and take the time to be with them, provide them with simple art supplies and sit at the table and draw with them, read books together, ask them to tell you a story, they will understand that you love them and value who they are and the particular way they express whatever it is they happen to be curious about.

Where did The Very Hungry Caterpillar come from? How do you account for its worldwide, universal popularity? (We think its success is partly due to the food looking incredibly tasty.)

The idea for the book came from a hole puncher, in part. I was punching holes into a piece of paper and I thought, “book worm.”

And when people ask me about the popularity of my work, I tell them honestly, I don’t know the determining factor. I believe most children can identify with the helpless, small, insignificant caterpillars and other creatures in my stories, and they rejoice with it when it turns into a beautiful butterfly.

What children’s book artists do you admire?

I admire the work of Leo Lionni, Jos’ Aruego, Mitsumasa Anno, Lisbeth Zwerger, Maurice Sendak, Ezra Jack Keats, Jerry Pinkney and Chris Van Allsburg, among others. I think that each of these picture book artists has an individual and distinctive style and approach and each one speaks from his or her soul.

What’s one of your favorite letters or gifts you’ve received from a child?

There are so many, but a lovely one was from a child who said he would like to come and visit me but he wasn’t allowed to cross the street!

What messages do you most want to convey to children with your books?

I am particularly interested in the period in a child’s life when he or she, for the first time, leaves home to go to school. What a gulf a child must cross then: from home and security, a world of play and the senses, to a world of reason and abstraction, order and discipline. I should like my books to bridge that great divide. For me, leaving the warmth of home to go to school was traumatic. It occurs to me that I am still trying to make that difficult first step from home to school easier with my pictures and my books. I hope that my work has helped to make this transition for children a little bit easier.

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