As a kindergarten teacher, I have a great love for picture books. I built my classroom library around a wide variety of authors and illustrators who captivated my students’ hearts and minds through their words and drawings. But my very favorite picture book author and illustrator will always be Eric Carle. In fact, I had a small corner of my classroom decked out in all things Eric Carle. From hand puppets to stuffed animals from the pages of his stories to almost every book he ever published. My students knew from the moment they entered our classroom that I had a special love for this great creator.
So, I was especially sad to learn of his passing. He inspired my love for children’s books and also my love of tissue paper art, which he so artfully used to create the illustrations within his books. I also believe he inspired a love of reading in many of my kindergartners. The requests to read another one of his books happened the second we finished one. My students would create artwork that decorated our walls, bulletin boards, and hallways. He truly was an inspiration.
So, I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite books by this beloved author. Maybe this will inspire some of you to add a few of his stories to your own classroom libraries.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Okay, so I hesitated a bit to put this one in, simply because it is so quintessentially Eric Carle. But, this is also the exact reason I did. This is the book that almost all of us attribute to him. It’s easily the most widely read Eric Carle book out there, and there is a reason for that. It teaches the life cycle of a butterfly, while also incorporating the days of the week, counting, good nutrition and more. For our early learners, this book tells the story of growth and transformation in such a simplistic and beautiful way. For many years, we would build a butterfly habitat and watch first hand how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly. The excitement and wonder that unfolded each day was incredibly inspiring and so very fun to be a part of.
The Secret Birthday Message
This is probably a lesser known book, but tells a great story about a boy who is sent on a treasure hunt through various strange places, until he eventually finds a happy surprise. I love the way this book teaches prepositions to it’s young readers. But, this book is even more meaningful to me because it was our class birthday book. Anytime a student celebrated a birthday, I would read this book aloud. I then sent that student on a scavenger hunt around our classroom. I would give various students a clue to say aloud that would lead our birthday friend to a card that was created and signed by all of us. It also contained an Eric Carle inspired, student designed birthday crown that students anticipated getting and wearing for the rest of our day together. Needless to say, lots of smiles and excitement were had as a result of this book.
The Mixed Up Chameleon
This is a charming story about a bored chameleon who starts taking on colors of other animals. However, it soon discovers that it is simply best to be himself. I love the repetition and word patterning that plays out on the pages of this story. We would always pair this book to a writing activity, where students would “try-on” different animal parts, write about how it would be cool to have that feature, but then finish with why it is best to be who you are. Students would share their creation aloud, and we would assemble all of their creative ideas into a class book. My favorite part was that we would laminate this book and add it to our Eric Carle corner, so that this book could be enjoyed by all.
I could continue to go down the list of great works created by this inspiring author and illustrator, but I encourage you to check out a book by Eric Carle that maybe you haven’t read before — and encourage your kids to do the same.