In the mid 1960s, former educator Bill Martin Jr. was an editor at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, where his responsibilities included writing books in a paper-over-board series entitled The Sounds of Language, which the publisher marketed directly to schools. One of those books, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, he penned one day as he commuted to work on the Long Island Rail Road. Not long after that, Martin was flipping through a magazine at his dentist's office when an ad featuring a collage illustration of a bright red lobster caught his eye. Thinking that this art style would be a perfect match for the text of Brown Bear, Martin contacted its creator, Eric Carle, then art director of an ad agency, who agreed to illustrate the book—his very first.
Published for the school market in 1967, Brown Bear's repetitive, rhythmic text and spare, cheerful collages received high praise from teachers, many of whom contacted Holt over the following years to suggest that the publisher release a trade edition of the picture book. What Laura Godwin, v-p and associate publisher of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, called "the sheer volume of these requests" convinced the publisher to do just that, in 1976. A second collaboration between Martin and Carle, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, followed in 1992. Similar in tone and style to their first joint effort, this volume also resonated with adults and children alike: the two books together have sold more than eight million copies and have been translated into eight languages.
And now, 11 years later, comes a third book featuring a bear on its cover. Due in August from Holt with an elephantine first printing of 250,000 copies, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? introduces members of endangered species commenting on the movement of other animals ("Panda Bear, Panda Bear, what do you see? I see a bald eagle soaring by me"). "This book was a long time in the works," Godwin commented. "Bill, Eric and Holt all wanted to do a follow-up to the first books, but no one wanted to do a sequel just to do a sequel. A third book had to be something that stood on its own and had its own voice."
Martin recalled his search for that voice. "I had written about a brown bear and a polar bear, and for years I wanted to introduce my favorite bear—the panda—to young readers," he noted. "But the challenge was the pattern—the first book was about sight and the second was about hearing. What would Panda Bear be doing? The breakthrough came when I suddenly thought about exploring the pattern of how animals move. I knew I was on the right track when I discovered a Spider Monkey swinging and a Macaroni Penguin strutting." When he had completed half of the book's text, Martin called Carle to tell him about the new project. "His answer was immediate," the author reported. "He said, 'send it to me—I can't wait to begin the art!' "
Carle was very pleased to hear Martin's news, since, in his words, the two had over the years "corresponded occasionally, bouncing text ideas or book dummies between us. But I think until we started talking about the text for Panda Bear, neither of us was on board with an idea for another book. We had some good ideas, but I am glad that we waited until Bill was able to come up with a bear book, because it is fitting that we continue this series that started with Brown Bear."
Working Double Duty
The artist put double effort—literally—into this project, creating two versions of his collage art. "After completing the first version," Carle explained, "I realized that something wasn't right, so I started over. In the second set of illustrations, I included painted backgrounds and I did this for two reasons. I wanted to place the animals in their own environment and felt the painted backgrounds would provide a sense of the natural surroundings where these endangered animals live. I also wanted a unifying effect throughout the book that connected the individual pictures. I think adding backgrounds helps to achieve this sense of continuity." Carle expects that the unused art will eventually be displayed at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Mass., where much of his original work is located.
Martin's decision to devote Panda Bear to endangered or threatened creatures came out of his lifelong love of animals and his concern that, in his words, "we are losing many unique and beautiful creatures. I hope this book will pass along my desire to save our animal world to children, and that they will succeed in turning the tide." Carle echoed this hope, noting that he too has been a lover of animals since childhood, when his father would take him for frequent walks in the forest and talk to him about the animals that lived there. "I am very pleased that Panda Bear is about endangered animals and hope that it will in some way help to encourage the protection of these beautiful creatures," he said.
For its launch of Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, Holt has created promotional materials that include a retail floor display, posters, plastic bags and book plates designed by Carle and signed by the collaborators. The publisher also has a school and library marketing plan in place, and Carle will make selected appearances—including one at the San Diego Zoo.
Asked about the possibility that this author and artist will do yet another book together, Carle responded, "That would be nice—when there is just the right story to tell." There may soon be. Martin said he is now working on a project that he would love Carle to illustrate, yet he refused to elaborate, commenting "I'll be secretive because I don't like to talk about what I'm working on—talk saps the refreshing experience of writing." Obviously their publisher would welcome another Martin-Carle collaboration. Godwin said, "Once you start with a classic it can be hard to follow it up, but I was thrilled to have seen a book of the quality of Panda Bear in the making. I would love to see them do something else together. Nothing would make me happier." Fans of this duo's collaborative work will heartily concur.