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From The Very Hungry Caterpillar to The Very Lonely Firefly, Eric Carle's bestselling "Very" books have dazzled and delighted kids everywhere. Now Carle's created a brand-new "Very" book about a clumsy little click beetle who can't seem to land on his feet. However, when it matters most, he finally succeeds-saving his own life in the process. This winning story of perseverance and pride in achievement also has an ingenious, interactive surprise-a hidden sound chip provides an audible "click" each time the reader turns the page. Jamie Levine of Barnes & Noble.com recently asked Eric Carle some questions about his life, his work, and the new book everybody's flipping over.
Barnes & Noble.com: How did you come up with the idea for The Very Clumsy Click Beetle?
Eric Carle: I like little bugs and insects, and I know that they have become my signatures-but it's not an artificially arrived-at signature. I grew up fascinated by little worms, bugs, and insects. I suppose my father had a lot to do with it.... In our walks around the garden, he would point out these little insects to me. Maybe it was because in Germany we didn't have elephants, giraffes, or other large animals, so I had to settle for liking little creatures-ants, worms, and bugs. But don't you think that most little boys and little girls seem to have an interest in them, too? There are so many surprising things about insects-their life cycles, for instance. Some, like cicadas, take seven years to hatch, and then only live for a week or so! Why would nature do that? Recently, I was reading about butterflies, and to my surprise, I discovered that one species is carnivorous! It eats other insects. And ants are amazing! There are so many different kinds of ants in the same colony, each with its own specialization-builders, fighters, food hunters, and harvesters-some even build mushroom cellars! Fascinating!
The click beetle might seem at first like a dull little guy, but it has this remarkable ability to flip through the air, and I found that very interesting. I learned that adult click beetles have this wonderful ability, but do you know that they land on their feet only 50 percent of the time? One out of two attempts is not successful. Don't you think that's strange? What did nature have in mind when it designed a bug that has only a 50 percent chance of getting out of harm's way?
The click beetle is an insect I had been thinking about for some time. Perseverance seemed to be the natural theme. Because click beetles land on their feet only 50 percent of the time, it takes perseverance to get really good at it. Of course, that is an anthropomorphic point of view. My little insects are metaphors for children, who have the same problems of learning to walk, to talk, to run, etc. So the importance of stick-to-itiveness became the theme for The Very Clumsy Click Beetle.
bn.com: Do you have a favorite animal?
EC: No, I like to learn about all animals and insects.
bn.com: How long did it take to produce The Very Clumsy Click Beetle?
EC: The Very Clumsy Click Beetle has gone through the same process that most of my books do. An idea begins with a blip, a fragment that gradually grows. It grows sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly (some ideas never mature)-parts of it develop effortlessly, other parts develop painfully. Sometimes I feel it's the best ever, or the worst ever. This process can take a year or more, steadily on and off. The production of The Very Clumsy Click Beetle embodied the message of perseverance. Because of technical difficulties the publication date was delayed one full year. But we (publisher, printer, binder, and I) did, in the end, make it work.
bn.com: When did you start doing collage art? Is this your favorite medium to work in-or is it because it's your trademark that you continue to illustrate in this style?
EC: I learned collage in art school. After art school I was a poster artist. I always liked big, bold images, which are important in poster design. I love to do collages-the whole process of it-painting tissue papers, storing them, handling them, cutting and tearing out shapes.
bn.com: When you were a child, did you always know you'd be an artist of some sort? Did your parents encourage you?
EC: Yes. Before I knew the word "artist" or the concept of art, I knew I would draw pictures. It was my favorite occupation at that time of my life. My parents were very supportive, and my relatives brought me watercolors and papers and crayons. My mother would proudly show off my work to anyone who happened to come by.
bn.com: Your books are so intuitive about children's thoughts and feelings. How do you know so well what will touch and engage kids?
EC: The underlying topics that are addressed in each of the books you mention are indeed very basic and universal desires and needs. Very basic ideas. In the books, these lessons are camouflaged, are not didactically presented; they are not the primary concerns of my books. The primary concern is to tell a good story, to impart just sheer fun and then, secondarily, to educate or to convey some useful idea. In part, the ideas come from my own philosophical thoughts and musings. My ability to write them simply and in a way that children can easily understand is intuitive. I try not to intellectualize too much about the ideas in my books. I do remember my own childhood feelings and emotions quite clearly; perhaps this helps me to understand the basic needs and interests of the young children for whom I create my books. Other than that, I really don't know how I do it. Either you have intuition or you don't. And you have to trust your intuition, too. Trust that it's not going to lead you away from the point you are trying to make, and trust that it is correct in terms of the child reader.
bn.com: Because you've established such a stellar reputation, do you find it is more difficult to create books (i.e., a lot is expected of you)-or in fact, is it easier (i.e., you have more clout, so you can do what you want)?
EC: Sometimes I am convinced that I will not do books anymore, but then I come up with an idea-what can I do?
Yes, a lot is expected of me and yes, I do have some clout. That is the time to be most careful. But my state of mind (working, illustrating, writing) while I am doing a book has never changed.
bn.com: Are you planning to do more "Very" books in the future? Are you working on any other books now?
EC: I'm not planning more "Very" books. And yes, I am working on other books, but will not mention them. If I do, I'll put a hex on them.