‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ author Eric Carle dead at 91

Eric Carle, a writer and illustrator of children’s books including “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” died Sunday at his Massachusetts home. He was 91.

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Carle died at his summer studio in Northampton, The New York Times reported. His son, Rolf Carle, said the cause of death was kidney failure, the newspaper reported.

The best-known of Carle’s 70 books, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” was published in 1969 and has sold more than 55 million copies worldwide, the Times reported. The book’s 224 words has been translated into more than 70 languages, the newspaper reported.

Carle’s other works included “The Grouchy Ladybug,” “The Mixed-Up Chameleon,” “The Very Busy Spider” and “Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?The Washington Post reported.

Carle sold more than 170 million books, according to his publisher, Penguin Random House.

Michelle H. Martin, the Beverly Cleary professor for children and youth services at the University of Washington, told The Atlantic in 2019 that if you don’t have a good grasp of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “you are children’s-book illiterate.”

In 2003, Carle received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (now called the Children’s Literature Legacy Award) from the American Library Association, which recognizes authors and illustrators whose books have created a lasting contribution to children’s literature.

Carle’s career as a children’s book author began when he was in his late 30s.

“I had a lot of feelings, philosophical thoughts -- at the age of 6,” Carle told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “The only way I got older and wiser was that I got better trained. But that brain and soul were at their peak.”

Carle’s illustrations were created by layering hand-painted tissue paper, the Post reported.

Carle, the son of German immigrants, was born on June 25, 1929, in Syracuse, New York, The New York Times reported. He spent his early years in the United States but returned to his home country in the mid-1930s, the Post reported.

As a teenager, Carle joined forced laborers building trenches along the Siegfried defensive line, according to the Post. His father, who had been conscripted into the German army, was imprisoned for years after the war by the Soviets.

“In Stuttgart, our hometown, our house was the only one standing,” Carle told The Guardian in 2009. “When I say standing, I mean the roof and windows are gone, and the doors. And … well, there you are.”

Carle returned to the United States in 1952, where he worked as a graphic designer for The New York Times. After leaving the newspaper in 1963, he debuted as a children’s illustrator in 1967′s “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” written by Bill Martin Jr., according to the Post.

“I didn’t realize it clearly then, but my life was beginning to move onto its true course,” Carle wrote in an essay. “The long, dark time of growing up in wartime Germany, the cruelly enforced discipline of my school years there, the dutifully performed work at my jobs in advertising -- all these were finally losing their rigid grip on me. The child inside me -- who had been so suddenly and sharply uprooted and repressed -- was beginning to come joyfully back to life.”