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Opinion / Analysis / Essays


Eric Carle

February 21, 2002

NORTHAMPTON - Eric Carle sometimes envies the sloth.

There is something to be said for sleeping 19 to 20 hours a day, eating hardly at all, and relieving oneself just once a week.

So the author and illustrator of more than 70 children's books, who says he shuns too much excitement in his life, decided that slothiness (as distinct from slothfulness) would be a suitable topic for his next book.

Part of the impetus has been the extraordinary amount of energy he and his wife, Barbara, known to friends as Bobbie, have been putting into the planning and construction of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art due to open on the Hampshire College campus in Amherst later this year.

As an antidote to constant meetings, decisions, and deadlines, Carle sequestered himself in his Northampton studio to research sloths. "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly, Said the Sloth" (Philomel/Putnam) will soon take its place among his stories about a very hungry caterpillar, a busy spider, a quiet cricket, a lonely firefly, a mixed-up chameleon, a grouchy ladybug, a clumsy click beetle, a foolish tortoise, and a greedy python.

Carle, 72, begins his day in the kitchen of his 90-year-old house here drinking Red Zinger tea and reading the newspaper in his favorite spot under a window at a round Italian marble table. He and Barbara, 63, bought the house in 1987, and at the time, two pillars graced the foyer, an architectural detail he detested. As Carle recalls, his close friend and fellow children's book author, Norton Juster, who's also an architect, told him, "If you hate two columns, you'll love four." So Carle and his wife added two more columns in the foyer, and, indeed, he loves the result.

The Carles' marriage is Barbara's first and Eric's second. They met in New York City, where he was a graphic designer for an advertising agency and she worked in the bookshop at the Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1971, they paid $10,000 for 50 acres near the Franklin County town of Hawley and made the move in 1974.

They still have that house in Hawley for weekend and summer use, but Barbara, who helped found Side-by-Side, a school for mainstreaming handicapped preschool children, wanted a place that was less isolated.

Carle was born in Syracuse, N.Y., but when he was 6 his parents returned to their native Germany. He and his first wife moved to the United States from Germany in 1952, and he was promptly drafted during the Korean War. Because of his language skills, he was sent to Germany and stationed in his hometown of Stuttgart during part of that time. Each afternoon, he would exchange his uniform for civilian clothes and go to his parents' home to sleep.

Neither of his children from his first marriage (Cirsten, 44, a massage therapist in Arizona, and Rolf, 41, an artist and cabinet maker in Brooklyn) is married, and the Carles don't have any grandchildren, but a funny thing happened a few years ago. They received a book in the mail from Emme, a plus-size supermodel whose mother had had a relationship with Eric between his marriages. Emme, whose given name is Melissa Miller and whom Carle hadn't seen for 34 years, wrote an inscription about her fond memories of the role Eric played in her early childhood, though he was not her father.

Last summer, Carle made the birth announcement for Toby Cole Aronson, born to Emme and her husband. On the front, a small mouse peeps through a hole under the words. "Hurrah! I have Arrived!" Inside, the mouse is in a wicker basket held on either side by Carle's signature collage figures made of his distinctive paper designs. The Carles are looking forward to spending time with Toby and her parents as she grows up.

"Emme is so happy to have us in her life as the older generation," said Barbara Carle, "and we are thrilled to have her."

To find out more about Eric Carle and the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, visit

All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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