On March 30, 2020, the world lost Tomie dePaola. March 8, 2021, we lost Norton Juster. March 25, 2021, Beverly Cleary died. May 23, 2021, Eric Carle died. And May 25, 2021, Lois Ehlert died.
I’m still trying to absorb this. Every one of these creators left a body of wonderful, beautiful work. They all lived full lives. And I’m still having a hard time.
I say it with Dylan Thomas… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I once half joked here that Eric Carle should win the Nobel Prize for Literature. (I’ve also thought of Ashley Bryan– I just checked, and, thank God, he’s still alive, ever brilliant and ever a mentor at age 97.)
Of course, we can comfort ourselves that the beautiful books and stories will live on. And, yes, they do.
But as I’m here, with a Spriggan curled up sleeping beside me, and the Changeling presumably reading in bed… I have another thought.
I’m thinking of the when the warm sun comes up, how it shines on a little egg lying on a leaf. Out of the egg– pop!– comes a little caterpillar. The caterpillar needs food. It eats and it eats all different things. It builds a small house around itself for a nice rest, and out comes– a beautiful butterfly!
Every single creator I list above? For each of these creators I’ve seen an outpouring of loving memories: “She wrote back to me and I have that postcard to this very day,” “He smiled and said, ‘Call me Eric,'” “He had such a great sense of humour.”
Words and images endure, yes, of course: but these creators left behind an energized, inspired series of artists and authors who will continue to create new and original work. More? Eric Carle co-founded the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art which does an incredible amount of good. I will never forget running into the beautiful artist and author, Grace Lin, there with her daughter. We were there masked, social distancing, and I stammered out my request for a signed book for the Changeling and the Spriggan, telling her how my girl reads up everything she writes.
Without Eric Carle, I wouldn’t have had the space to encounter Grace Lin. He’s been such a warm, nourishing sun to so many creators. That museum gives honour to the creators of preceding generations and support to the creators of the present. It’s a living, breathing testament to the greatness of the arts.
One of the exhibits I remember clearly from the Museum was “Eric Carle’s Angels: An Homage to Paul Klee,” where we had a chance to see how his art evolved in response to the influences of Paul Klee, even the past 5 years. There was thought, abstraction, playfulness: he never stopped learning, never stopped absorbing. That takes humility.
Humility, a willingness to learn, the generosity and openness to shine a light on others and warm them with education and support: this is the legacy these creators (all of them, so far as I can tell from the outpouring of love I see and hear) are leaving behind.
I’ve got a lot of writing to do here, and several reviews in progress, but I couldn’t let tonight go by without saying this:
I never wrote to any of these five. (The Changeling did write to Beverly Cleary, a few months before her death.) I have a membership to the Carle Museum– but I never wrote to Eric Carle.
I have a recording my parents took of me “reading” (reciting) The Very Hungry Caterpillar as a child. I read it every night to the Changeling when she took her bath. (The first time I got to the last page– she cried at the butterfly, she was so surprised!) I have it off by heart in English and Welsh, both.
I wish I’d written to tell him. I regret not having done so, I regret it deeply. I think he was such a part of the landscape to me that I never thought to because… the warm sun comes up, you know? But the sun is setting tonight and while I know it will rise in the morning, tonight I’m sad. I wish I’d told Eric Carle that I care. I wrote to a few other creators tonight.
I hope you all reach out to tell people whose work matters to you that it really does. And, if you ever get the chance– visit the Eric Carle Museum and just absorb the greatness of picture books. There are so many, and the warm sun of the generations behind us has given us that space to learn, enjoy, and be inspired.
Thank you, Tomie dePaola, Norton Juster, Beverly Cleary, Eric Carle, Lois Ehlert– your memories are an ongoing blessing on the children’s book community and families everywhere.
And to everyone out there who knew these great creators: I’m holding you all in my thoughts, too. It’s tough to say goodbye, even when the books are still there.