PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Tucked away in a corner of the Children’s Museum on the North Side is a new exhibit.
“Very Eric Carle” is premiering in Pittsburgh before traveling to other cities around the country.
Organizers worked with The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Massachusetts to set up the exhibit. It officially opens on Saturday, June 13.
Eric Carle, the author of the “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “The Very Quiet Cricket,” as well as books in the “Very” series, is well known among parents and children. Many have every book in the series. For some, it’s their first introduction to reading.
The colorful exhibit is broken up into several sections. Each part focuses on one book in the series. Designers say it’s a way for kids to interact with some of their favorite characters.
In one corner, kids enter the world of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” Children wander through a short maze full of giant story book pages – complete with peek-holes.
“What we did is, we took the pages…and we blew them up, so kids can go on the journey with the caterpillar,” says Anne Fullenkamp, the Project Manager and Associate Director of Business Development for the Children’s Museum. “The kids can put their heads in the holes, just as if they’re the caterpillar eating through the fruit.”
At the end, there’s a transformation. Kids get a chance to create their own butterfly designs using light projection technology. They design a butterfly’s wings, and their artwork is projected onto the wall in front of them.
The kids can also transform into butterflies by putting on fake wings and dancing around the room. The wings were created by a local artist in the style of Eric Carle.
“You know, she liked the butterflies and she liked the caterpillar,” says June Hopson, who visited with her 3-year-old great-niece. “I think the caterpillar, though, is her favorite.”
There’s even a special spot for kids to pose in their wings, or for their parents to take a selfie.
Along the front wall is a giant mural of friendly bugs. They’re all part of the book called, “The Very Quiet Cricket.”
“The story of the cricket is, he’s quiet until he finds another cricket,” says Fullenkamp. “As he’s looking for the other cricket, he encounters other creatures and insects that live in the forest.”
Kids of all ages can press on the cut-out characters on the wall, creating lights and sounds and their own symphony. Even the stars make a sound.
“As more of the insects are lit and more music is made, the moon glows brighter,” says Fullenkamp.
The shapes are specifically placed at several heights on the display, so kids of all ages can enjoy.
One of the most popular parts of the exhibit comes from the story of “The Very Clumsy Click Beetle.”
“The click beetle, he’s trying to learn how to flip,” says Fullenkamp. “So, all the experiences involve his physical dexterity…finding his feet, he has to crawl through the grass.”
The tall grass display attracted nearly all the kids who got a preview of the exhibit. It’s made of insulation tubing inside specially-printed fabric, which features an Eric Carle design. The grass also features custom-made springs, so it bounces back into place after the kids go through.
“Fabulous. He loved the grass because you just fall into it,” says Marybeth Difatta, who visited the exhibit with her 6-year-old son. “It’s been amazing.”
Another popular part of the exhibit was modeled after Eric Carle’s book, “The Very Busy Spider.”
Grey ropes were hand-woven into an intricate design that resembles spider webs. A friendly spider guards the entrance to a trampoline walkway. Kids even get to add their own flies to the web, which can be moved around.
“The spider web was his favorite…because you could crawl underneath the spider web,” says Difatta.
Further down the wall, kids enter the world of “The Very Lonely Firefly.” Using their bodies and high-tech projection technology, the kids’ movements help them be part of the picture.
There are sit-down activities, too. 3-D puzzles, shaped like bugs, are set up on the floor. Kids loved dismantling them and reassembling them into different creatures.
“We’ve color-coded them, so the orange pieces go with the orange, and the red with the red,” says Fullenkamp. “We’ve named them, so kids can try to figure it out on their own.”
There are reading spaces, too. The exhibit is lined with copies of Eric Carle’s books. From comfy pillows, to a chair shaped like a flower and cozy reading domes, the kids can pick up a book and read with their family as the characters come to life all around them.
There’s even a tribute to Eric Carle in the middle of the room.
“We built an art studio to make that connection, so kids and visitors can see how he makes his art,” says Fullenkamp. “[On display are] his real coat, the paint-stained shoes and a broom. Sometimes, he’s done very large-scale pieces and he’ll use the broom to paint with.”
The interactive part of the exhibit was a big hit with parents who brought their kids to check out the exhibit.
“We’ll be here a bunch of times, I’m sure,” says Chelsea Vetere, who visited with her 3-year-old son.
In the hallway, pictures that illustrate Eric Carle’s artistic process are on display. There are sketches, early renditions and copies of final artwork that ended up in the books.
“This is a collection of 25 original giclee prints of his artwork,” says Fullenkamp. “His artwork can’t travel because of the way he made it. It’s too delicate, so what they do is they create these super-high quality giclee reproductions.”
Once the exhibit wraps up in Pittsburgh in the fall, it’s heading to several other locations around the country.
First, it will stop in Saint Louis, then move on to Minnesota, and then to Texas.
“Our plan is to have it in tour for 10 years,” says Fullenkamp.