This is a special month for me. It is my birthday month. It is also the birthday month of one of children’s literature’s favourite authors and illustrators, Eric Carle. I had already planned to write a post about Eric Carle’s books during this month of his birth. It seems even more important now since he passed away in May, just a month before his 92nd birthday on 25 June — such a loss to the kidlit community, but what a legacy he has left.
Eric Carle was a prolific author and illustrator of children’s picture books. He wrote and illustrated more than 70 books. I’m sure everyone knows at least one, and probably several, of Carle’s books. There are possibly several of his books on the shelves of every early childhood and lower primary classroom. Everyone will have their favourites, but I think possibly the best known and the one that comes to mind first for many people is The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
In this post, I list ten of my favourite Eric Carle books and suggest at least one teaching idea for each.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Teachers (and parents) love to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar aloud to their children. The story is told in simple rhythmic language and illustrated with bright captivating illustrations. The repetitive and cumulative text draws the children in as they anticipate upcoming events and use the structure of the language to memorise and predict the story in words. The book is often one of the first that many children ‘read’ for themselves.
Teachers have been known to use the story in the classroom as a springboard for teaching concepts such as:
- days of the week
- names of fruit and vegetables
- healthy eating
- story retelling in sequence
- writing by innovating on the structure.
These are all wonderful ways to harness children’s enthusiasm for the book to stimulate learning in other areas. An additional way I always used the book was to teach critical thinking. I wrote about that in this post and lessons based upon those suggestions are available here.
Here is a delightful video of Eric Carle reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Rooster’s Off to See the World
Rooster’s Off to See the World is a fun story about a rooster who decides to travel. Along the way he meets an increasing number of animals whom he invites to join him. When night falls, the other animals decide they can no longer travel and head for home. Rooster decides home is probably the best place for him as well.
The number of animals Rooster meets increases by one on each page, so children can enjoy the story and count the animals to five, the number of fish — the last animals to join the troupe. On each page, all the animals met so far are pictured, so the total number can also be counted, up to a total of 15 with the fish.
The number of animals increases on each page in a growing pattern, so the book can also be used when teaching and discussing growing patterns.
Growing patterns can also be found in my own story Bullfrog’s Billabong.
Traditionally, mothers are considered the primary carers for young in the animal kingdom. However, it is not so for all animals. Most people are aware that in some animal species, such as seahorses and emus, the father takes care of the young. In other species such as penguins, parents share the care.
In Mr Seahorse, Carle introduces us to a variety of fish species, starting with the seahorse, in which the father takes care of the young. This book provides an opportunity for discussion of different human family configurations as well as explorations of the animal kingdom.
After conducting the critical thinking lessons, mentioned above, for The Very Hungry Caterpillar with my class, the children were curious to know if the information about the fish in this book was correct. We were delighted to discover from our research that information about all of the fish fathers mentioned in the book was correct.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Brown Bear, Brown Bear was not written by Eric Carle but was illustrated by him. It was written by one of my literacy heroes, Bill Martin Jr. It was actually the first picture book illustrated by Carle and the one that got him started on his picture book career — another reason to be grateful to Bill Martin Jr.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear is also popular with early childhood teachers as it is a great stepping stone for children beginning their journey into literacy, both as a text for independent reading and for innovating for writing. The repetitive text, clearly and beautifully illustrated by Carle, invites young children to join in, predicting and confirming the text.
The Mixed-Up Chameleon
The chameleon is bored with life. One day he sees a zoo and wishes he could be like the animals he finds there. As he makes each wish, a small part of him takes on a feature of the animal. He becomes very mixed up, and very hungry. Unfortunately, he is so mixed up, that when a fly flies by, he can’t catch it — until he wishes his old self back.
This is a great story for discussing individual differences and for accepting who you are and liking yourself.
It’s also a great stimulus for children to create their own crazy mixed-up animals. They may also like to write about the animal they would like to be.
‘Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,’ said the Sloth
With an introduction by Jan Goodall, this book introduces children to animals of the sloth’s rainforest home. The animals wonder why the sloth is so slow and boring. The sloth agrees that he is slow and uses over ten adjectives to describe those aspects of himself. He also declares that he is happy to be who he is, stating, ‘That’s just how I am.’
This book is a great way to introduce adjectives to children and to encourage them to use words other than ‘nice’ in their writing.
It is also great for introducing children to the diversity of nature and the importance of protecting it and caring for the environment.
The Bad-Tempered Ladybird
The bad-tempered ladybird is not keen on sharing aphids with another ladybird but doesn’t want to fight for them. The ladybird heads off to find someone bigger to fight. Each adversary becomes increasingly bigger, and though she asks if they wish to fight, she declares they are not big enough. Eventually, the ladybird comes across a whale.
Time is important to the story with events occurring at one hourly intervals, until the ladybird meets the whale and it increases to 15-minute increments. A clock is shown on each page, so the book is great to read when teaching children about time.
At the end of the story, the ladybird decides it’s better to be friendly.
The book is useful when discussing the importance of sharing or when teaching friendship skills.
Here at readilearn, we have a free paper plate clock face children can make to assist their learning.
The Very Quiet Cricket
When the little cricket is born, he goes off into the big world where he meets many other animals who greet him. He tries to return the greeting by rubbing his wings together, but nothing happens. It isn’t until he meets another cricket that he is able to make a most beautiful sound by rubbing his wings together.
This book can be used as a stimulus for discussions about:
- believing in yourself
- being happy with who you are.
And for teaching about insects and other minibeasts.
See readilearn resources for teaching about minibeasts in the science biology collection.
A House for Hermit Crab
Hermit crab grows too big for his shell. He has to leave it and find another shell. When he finds another shell, he considers it too plain. Each month he invites a different sea creature to live on his shell and help to decorate it. At the end of the year, he has a beautiful shell, but then it is too small as he has grown throughout the year. When a smaller hermit crab comes along looking for a new home, hermit crab leaves his shell to find an even bigger shell. Initially, it too is a bit plain. But not for long.
This book can be used as a springboard for teaching about:
- sea animals
- months of the year (each event takes place in a different month)
- plain and beautiful
The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse
In this book, the artist tells what he paints, a large illustration of a colourful animal on each page supporting the simple, predictable text. At the end, the artist confidently claims, as we would want all children to do, that he is a good artist.
As well as being an easy book for beginners to read, it can be used for helping them:
- identify animals by name
- identify colours
- discuss artistic representations of animals
- discuss their own worth as an artist
Encouraging young artists
Carle’s illustrations with their bright, bold colours and large brush strokes are perfect as models for children’s own artworks.
To explore some of Eric Carle’s painting techniques, watch this video with Mr Rogers.
Download his instructions and other activities from his website.
These suggestions are now available to download free from the readilearn collection: Ten Favourite Eric Carle Picture Books.
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