Baby & Toddler
The Best Eric Carle Books for Babies & Toddlers
by Patricia J. Murphy
If only beloved children’s authors could live forever. Fortunately, their books can! In 2021, we lost the talented author and illustrator Eric Carle (1929-2021). Known for his brightly colored collage artwork and engaging stories, Carle’s work speaks to children’s interests, curiosities, fears, and hearts. His books also leave room for young readers to imagine, daydream, and create their own stories.
Carle created over 70 stories in his lifetime, including his bestselling classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar (originally published in 1969). Below, I’ve spotlighted this title and nine other Eric Carle must-reads. But, please don’t stop with the books on this list. Whether you’re new to the world of Eric Carle or you’re a lifelong fan, he has a title for everyone. And all of his books beg to be read over and over again.
Before you rush off to read these fantastic books, please join me in raising a juice box (or whatever drink you have on hand) to thank our dear Eric Carle for sharing his gift with us. Also, share one of his books with someone you love (I think he’d like that!) And I will, too.
Thank you, Mr. Carle, for your talents and books and for transforming millions of hungry little caterpillars into lifelong reading butterflies.
Carle’s Mister Seahorse delivers a deep sea story of papa appreciation. After Mrs. Seahorse deposits her eggs into Mr. Seahorse’s pouch, the soon-to-be papa discovers other fathers in the ocean dutifully caring for their offspring. Well, until the seahorse eggs hatch and the babies make their way into the world. Have tissues handy. Sniff. Sniff.
Friends tells the story of a young boy and girl who become friends. When the girl moves far away, the boy goes to great lengths to see her again. Through the boy’s gallant efforts and the book’s heartfelt words and illustrations, we feel the magical power of friendship. This title encourages discussions on making and keeping friends with both boys and girls. Two fun facts about the story: It’s inspired by what Carle called his “long ago friend” with whom he lost touch when he moved from the U.S. to Germany as a child, and his “happy marriage” to his wife, Barbara, aka “Bobbie.” Love this!
The Nonsense Show
Who couldn’t use a little more nonsense? Well, this story is full of it! From the cover’s duck in a banana peel, birds in aquariums, and fish in cages, to mice chasing cats, readers will delight in the surrealist artwork and rhyming text that delivers gut-busting nonsense. It will tickle your funny bone on every page! And, don’t forget to read Carle’s nonsensical biography on the back book sleeve—it’s a hoot!
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Who knew playing with a hole puncher and paper would lead to a beloved caterpillar-turned-butterfly story? That’s what Carle did when he created a story about a green worm (his longtime editor, Ann Beneduce, suggested it be a caterpillar) who eats its way through fruits, vegetables, candies, cookies, and ice cream—and into millions of hearts. It’s a story of transformation that will grow with your little caterpillar as they turn into a butterfly. Each time you read it, you’ll feel like Carle wrote it just for your child—because he did.
Today Is Monday
You’ll want to fit this must-read and sing-along story into your busy schedule any day of the week. In no time, you’ll be reading, singing, and memorizing the seven days of the week paired with delicious menu items—including the mysterious ZOOP (whatever that is!) The backmatter includes sheet music, making it easy to sing and play along with the story. Here’s betting you a bowl of ZOOP that you won’t be able to stop yourself from doing either!
Calm with The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This tiny but mighty book features The Very Hungry Caterpillar, who transforms into a mindful guide offering readers tips on handling complicated feelings with thoughtful suggestions and deep breathing exercises. With its calming words and colorful illustrations, this slim offering is the perfect match for anxious children and their stressed-out families, too.
The Very Busy Spider
Carle’s very busy six-legged friend stars in her own lift-the-flap book. In this delightful tale, a barnyard of animals wants to invite the very busy spider on their playful adventures. But they can’t find her! Readers join the search party (and the fun) by identifying animals, making animal sounds, and lifting the sturdy flaps to look for the spider. Starred reviews by top literary magazines suggest this book is excellent for sighted and visually impaired readers.
This whimsical story follows a little cloud that breaks away from the other clouds to turn into his favorite shapes until he must return to work. Carle’s simple illustrations are reminiscent of a child’s finger painting and encourage young readers to look for and paint their own cloud shapes. Provide them with plenty of dark paper (e.g., blue or black) plus white paint, chalk, or cotton balls to let your little one experiment with creating cloud shapes.
Draw Me a Star
A young artist is asked to draw a star, the sun, the moon, a “handsome couple,” a house, a dog, a cat, and several other things. With his paints, he brings a bright, beautiful world to life. With each drawing, the artist grows older, and his pictures become more developed. The story culminates with steps to draw your own stars, as well as an exciting starlight journey for the artist. While this book often gets challenged because the couple appears in their birthday suits, it celebrates the beauty of light, creativity, and life. Like any book, parents and caregivers should read it ahead of time to decide if it’s suitable for their children.
"Slowly, Slowly, Slowly," said the Sloth
This smart, thoughtful story offers yet another reason to love Eric Carle! It begins with a sweet sloth doing what sloths do—eating, sleeping, and hanging upside down. But, when a series of jungle animals ask the sloth why it’s so slow, quiet, boring, and lazy, the sloth thinks for a loooooong time. Then, the sloth offers a response that quiets its critics and, hopefully, inspires busy families to slow down. If that doesn’t do it, maybe Carle’s plea for readers on the back cover to “slow down and live in peace” will.
To learn more about Eric Carle and the rest of his books, visit eric-carle.com and The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.