Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

A big happy frog, a plump purple cat, a handsome blue horse, and a soft yellow duck–all parade across the pages of this delightful book. Children will immediately respond to Eric Carle’s flat, boldly colored collages. Combined with Bill Martin’s singsong text, they create unforgettable images of these endearing animals.

The Origins of Brown Bear

On a train ride in 1966, the title phrase Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? popped into Bill Martin Jr.’s head. Later, he spotted an illustration of a red lobster in a magazine and contacted the creator, Eric Carle, to ask if he would illustrate his poem. So began Eric Carle’s career as a children’s book illustrator–along with a life-long collaborative friendship with Bill Martin Jr. Since then, Brown Bear and the three companion titles, Polar Bear, Panda Bear, and Baby Bear, have gone on to sell millions of copies worldwide.

The Bear books are a cultural landmark and a key milestone in many children’s reading lives. And many adults today remember reading the Bear books themselves as well as the experience of reading them for the first time to their own children. Whether in a picture book or a reader, and now in eBook and audio, the same bold graphics and repetitive, rhythmic text have truly stood the test of time.

Throughout Eric Carle’s career, he has shown an unshakeable commitment to artistic integrity and a dedication to making art accessible to children. His skillfully designed and beautifully rendered collage art is admired by fellow artists, colleagues and fans in equal measure. And in 2002, with his wife Barbara, Eric founded The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, the first museum of its kind in the United States.

–Laura Godwin, Vice President and Publisher, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

A Question for Eric Carle

Before the Bear books, you worked in advertising but had not yet created a children’s book. What went through your mind when you first heard from author Bill Martin Jr. about the Brown Bear manuscript? What made you want to illustrate it?

Eric Carle: At that point I was doing work-for-hire and I was very pleased to have the chance to do something different. I went through the manuscript and could see in my mind images of bright colorful animals, big and bold and simple like in posters. I was actually able to finish the art for this book and deliver it in one weekend. The whole process felt right and I was very excited by the opportunity to work on the book with Bill, which really changed my life and set me on the true course in my career.

Eric Carle 1

Eric Carle at work in his studio, Northampton, MA

Eric Carle 2

Sketches of Mama Bear for Baby Bear

Eric Carle 3

Eric Carle, holding a sketch from Baby Bear

The gentle rhyming and gorgeous, tissue-paper collage illustrations in this classic picture book make it a dog-eared favorite on many children’s bookshelves. On each page, we meet a new animal who nudges us onward to discover which creature will show up next: “Blue Horse, Blue Horse, What do you see? I see a green frog looking at me.” This pattern is repeated over and over, until the pre-reader can chime in with the reader, easily predicting the next rhyme. One thing readers might not predict, however, is just what kinds of funny characters will make an appearance at the denouement! Children on the verge of reading learn best with plenty of identifiable images and rhythmic repetition. Eric Carle’s good-humored style and colorful, bold illustrations (like those in The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Grouchy Ladybug, and Have You Seen My Cat?) have earned him a prominent place in the children’s book hall of fame. (Baby to Preschool) –Emilie Coulter

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

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Write, Publish, Promote. Words I am learning to live by. Want this to be your motto too? Join me and together we'll navigate the path to publishing success.

3 Comments

  1. New, revised version inferior to the original. I am a Kindergarten teacher in Connecticut, and have been using this book for many years. I have the Big Book, a regular-size Paperback version, and four small hardcover ones that I use with an original tape of Bill Martin reading the story. These books are much loved, and I decided to replenish my library with new ones, only to discover that for some reason known only to himself, Bill Martin decided to change the format. In the original version, the pictures helped give clues to the words,…

  2. Who watches the watchers? This has been the book of choice for my seven month old daughter’s bed time. We heard that it’s better to read the same book over and over to young kids so that they become familiar with matching up the words and the sounds. 

  3. Another Classic From Carle I’ve had three children who fell in love with this book around age two. It does a wonderful job of teaching colors, animals and rhyme to toddlers. 

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