The hundreds of women in the audience hung onto every word from the man with the microphone. People were taking photos with cellphone cameras. A man in the crowd wore a concert T-shirt.
The person on stage was a star, but not of rock music. Eric Carle is a star in the world of children's books.
On that day, Mr. Carle certainly didn't look like a celebrity. But he looked every inch the children's-book author and illustrator. He shuffled in unassumingly, a short man with white beard and hair and rimless glasses. He wore a red and white striped T-shirt under a beige jacket, his pants held up by suspenders.
All those women in the audience? They were mostly teachers. "Look how cute he is, so sweet," said one woman.
What was I doing there?
The event was a world away from the concerts I used to frequent. There were no loud guitars or drums, and I could actually understand Carle's words as he spoke – about his art, his life, and his books, including classics such as "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" and "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?"
Despite the relatively late hour (too late to bring my 2-year-old son, Nicholas), there were a few children in the audience. A little girl sat a couple of seats away from me with a pile of Carle books in her lap. She was restless and seemed bored with the discussion, so she started to read her copy of "Caterpillar."
So what was I doing there?
The answer is that I was again letting my paternal instincts take me places I would have never gone before Nicholas came along, as if I were a painter venturing into sculpture. This seems to be happening more often with me. Take parades, for example. Several years ago, I would have said I'm too busy watching paint dry to attend a parade. But Nicholas loves them, and now so do I.
On this night, I was at a small museum listening to a small man talk about pictures of small animals, which he makes for small children (four of Carle's books rest on my son's bookshelf). I was there to see a man who has sold 75 million copies of his 70 books engage in exchanges such as this:
Boy: "When you make a whale, do you start at the nose or the tail?"
Carle: "The nose."
Boy: "I would start at the tail."
Carle is famous for his brightly colored collages and said he loves color, because all he saw was gray when he was growing up in Nazi Germany. While visual art is often sketched out first, then painted, Carle paints a wide variety of colors onto tissue paper first. He then files away the paper. Only after he's chosen an idea for a book does he return to cut out desired forms from the paper. He'll use those shapes and colors to form caterpillars, fireflies, and crickets.
I feel as though I do that as a father. I've been handed these vibrant colors in the form of my son and I'm supposed to shape them. Nicholas is my first child, so I've never done this before. As often as not, I make it up as I go along, without sketches. Do I start at the nose or the tail? I seem to start somewhere in between, even if that means I end up watching lots of parades or an elderly man discuss caterpillars and whale tails.
What was I doing there? In my new world, a children's-book author is a rock star. And at the end of the evening, I waited in a long line so Carle could autograph my son's copy of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."