You'd know an Eric Carle book anywhere -- all those charming animal faces, the unique collage-heavy style that makes everything look so bright and rich, a big bent towards nature, and the kind of gentle spirit that enraptures kids and sticks with adults -- but what makes the author and illustrator's works really stick out is their ability to be both very entertaining and very educational, all at the same time and without a hitch.
They're what kids books should be: intellectual without being overbearing, rife with the kind of stories that are engaging and fun, but that also come crammed with lessons and morals that settle into kid brains and stay there forever. Sure, Carle's caterpillars are very hungry and his fireflies are very lonely and even his otters are primarily interested in nonsense, but the author knows how to use fun and creative (and even kind of silly) stories to teach kids about what's most important in life. How do I know that? Because Carle's vast collection of works -- over fifty! -- is filled with lessons you learned as a kiddo that you've probably kept up with into your older years.
Did you think Dr. Seuss was the only author who shaped your story-loving child brain into a smart adult one? Not by a long shot! Here are some of the best lessons Carle passed on to us in our most formative years.
1. It's important to mix things up in your diet
In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Carle's caterpillar is, well, very hungry, but he always finds the time to round out his diet. More fruit is probably better than more cakes and sausages, though we can't deny that it's important to treat yourself, too.
2. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day
Rooster's Off to See the World may be all about Rooster's world-spanning (and, amazingly, enough, just day-long) adventure, but it starts with a reminder to always, always kick things off with a solid meal (even when you're rudely awakened by a member of your family).
3. Brain games keep you fresh
Even on his birthday, Tim has to put his noodle to work in The Secret Birthday Message, following a special treasure map from his dad to find a super birthday surprise (the surprise is not increased brain power, but that's a nice side effect).
4. It's important to find a job you love
Walter the Baker is the very best baker around in the neatly-named Walter the Baker, and even though it leads to some weird (and tasty!) scrapes with the ruling royalty, it also proves to be his salvation.
5. Get to know your neighbors
When a domestic kitty goes missing in Have You Seen My Cat?, his worried owner goes searching for him, meeting all kinds of helpful neighbors (well, sort of, the book does span the world, but consider it all part of a global neighborhood) and finding all sorts of very wrong cats.
6. Pace yourself
When the mixed up chameleon at the heart of the appropriately named The Mixed-Up Chameleon tries to turn into everyone but himself, the results are outlandish and very funny. (And, yes, very mixed up.) Feel free to try new things, but maybe not all at once.
7. A positive attitude is the best attitude
The grouchy ladybug from The Grouchy Ladybug (hey, Carle liked to keep his titles simple!) has a real problem being pleasant to others, with her anger getting the best of her at every turn. It takes a massive fight with a fellow (good-natured) ladybug and a trip around the world for her to realize that being grouchy is a bad thing, and things are better when you've got a big smile and an open heart.
8. Sometimes it takes awhile to find where you belong (and that's okay)
Once the very lonely firefly from, eeerr, The Very Lonely Firefly decides to find some pals and not be so lonely anymore, his search takes kind of a while. Turns out, the perfect friends don't just rain from the sky, and it can sometimes take a lot of work to find the kind of friends you need. (And, don't worry, the firefly finds his worthy friends by book's end.)
9. Never give up on your dreams
Yes, the very quiet cricket from The Very Quiet Cricket (obviously, right?) is indeed quite quiet, and no matter how hard he rubs his little wings together, he can never make the melodious sound he dreams of. But he never, ever gives up, and guess what happens? He makes some beautiful music. Patience pays off.
10. Growth is important
Hermit Crab spends the bulk of A House for Hermit Crab looking for a brand new home once he grows out of his old one. Once he finds a fresh shell, he loves it, outfitting it with all kinds of fun knick-knacks and new friends. But what happens when Hermit Crab grows out of that one, too? He needs to go looking for a new one -- but that also means he's got a lovely home to leave to a new friend.
11. Don't let distractions keep you from what you need to do
The Very Busy Spider is filled with fun-loving farm animals who are just desperate to distract their spinning friend (yes, it's a very busy spider) from the task at hand. They want to roll in the mud! And run in the meadow! And just generally slack off! But Spider is having none of that, because she's got an important (and lovely) task at hand.
12. Don't run around naked
What's a tortoise without a shell? Free! And also naked and without some very necessary protection. The Foolish Tortoise's star initially feels very relieved to go shell-less, but it soon proves obvious that going without his cozy home is a bad move. Keep it on, guys.
13. Moderation is a good idea
When The Greedy Python gets going, the hungry snake can -- and will! -- eat everything in his path. Including himself. Eesh.