Four decades ago, Eric Carle teamed up with Bill Martin Jr. to create the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, which the author wrote during one extraordinarily creative half-hour ride on the Long Island Rail Road. An immediate success, this picture book was eventually followed by Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? (1992) and Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? (2003). Together, these tiles have some 11 million copies in print, in hardcover and board book editions.
Holt will publish Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? with a 500,000-copy first printing. This is the final joint effort between Carle and Martin, who died in 2004. Martin never saw the art for Baby Bear, though he knew that Eric was on board, once again, to illustrate his text. Carle shared some thoughts with Bookshelf about his collaborations with Martin
How did you initially connect with Bill Martin Jr. to illustrate Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
In the mid-1960s, I was working as a freelance commercial illustrator. Bill saw an ad in a magazine featuring a red lobster that I had designed, and asked me to illustrate his book. Almost without any planning, I became an author and illustrator of books for children. This opportunity changed my life.
In what way?
Illustrating Brown Bear helped me to find the right course in my career, and in my life really. I think with this book I saw how my work might make a difference, how it might help a child to discover the pleasure in reading and looking at picture books. This was a very rewarding switch.
And it must have been gratifying to realize how many children and adults responded so positively to your first book. To what do you attribute the phenomenal success of Brown Bear and of the subsequent Bear books?
I think there is a wonderful rhythm to Brown Bear and all of the Bear books—like a heartbeat—that I believe readers and listeners respond to. I learned a lot from Bill Martin Jr. about the importance of repetition and rhythm in writing books for children.
You have been quoted as saying that your love of nature has inspired many of your picture books. Do you feel as though this love of nature made you the ideal candidate to illustrate this series?
My father loved animals and I inherited that love for all kinds of creatures. Perhaps this comes through in my work and was evident in the lobster that caught Bill Martin Jr.'s attention all those years ago.
Speaking of your art, has the medium you've used to create the Bear books changed at all over the course of the series?
When I first started making picture books, I used store-bought colored tissue paper to make my collages. I used this paper when I was working in advertising as well. In fact, I made the image of the lobster that attracted Bill Martin Jr.'s attention out of colored tissue paper. But then I wanted to add some texture, so I started to paint the commercially available papers. And then I realized these papers were not colorfast and they faded. And there was an issue with the rubber cement I was using. Since the '80s, I have been using archival-quality materials. I paint plain tissue paper with acrylic paints in lots of colors and textures. I organize these papers in color-coded flat files in my studio and they become my palette. Sometimes they are so beautiful I do not want to cut into them.
Was it a challenge, as you added books to this series, to keep the art fresh and distinct from earlier Bear books?
Not really. Each book has been different from the last and has had a kind of life of its own. Also, there were years in between each book. I think we really waited for the right book idea before beginning a new collaboration in this series.
Did it sadden you to know that Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? was the final book in the series?
I feel honored to have worked with Bill and to have this new book, our fourth and final collaboration, come out on the 40th anniversary of the publication of Brown Bear. It feels like a wonderful tribute to the spirit of these books that have become favorites of parents, teachers and children and have helped millions learn to read.