Eric Hill, the picture book author and illustrator who created the beloved children's series starring Spot the Dog, has died at the age of 86.

The London-born, California-based author died at home this week following a short illness, according to publisher Puffin Books.

Hill, who often called himself "Spot's dad," initially created the playful and curious puppy character to tell stories to his son, Christopher.

The first book — Where's Spot? — was published in 1980 and employed what was, at the time, a relatively novel and innovative device for a kids' book: it called for pre-schoolers and parents to lift paper flaps to reveal where the titular pup might be as his mother searched for him.

Where's Spot? and subsequent titles that followed the character as he embarked on various adventures quickly gained popularity with fans worldwide.

Eric Hill

Eric Hill created Spot to tell bedtime stories to his son, Christopher. (Puffin Books)

"Eric's ingenious lift-the-flap device turned the reading of a Spot book into a glorious game of hide and seek, enjoyed by children and adults alike," Hill's publisher said.

Over the years, the series was translated into dozens of languages and the books sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. Hill's stories were also adapted into an animated series (broadcast on television and released on DVD) and Spot also appeared in a host of products, from bed linens to interactive software for children.

Worked as cartoonist, illustrator

Born in north London in 1927, Hill got his start in illustration as an errand and messenger boy for an art studio, where he drew cartoons in his spare time. After serving in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, he returned to the studio and worked as an illustrator and cartoonist. Later, he moved onto work in the advertising industry as an illustrator, designer and art director.

Following his son Christopher's birth in 1976, he began dreaming up stories about a playful dog as bedtime reading.

"I am quite convinced now, as I look back, that the actual training of drawing cartoons — which is, of course, my style — led to my producing Spot. Cartoons must be very simple and have as few words as possible and so must the Spot books," he once said in an interview.

Hill had devised an advertising flyer that featured an amusing picture that is revealed to a reader when a flap is lifted. He realized how much it also delighted his toddler. Hill created Where's Spot soon afterwards.

In the 1980s, buoyed by the success of his new series, he resettled in the U.S. with his family. In his later years, he divided his time between homes in California and France.

In 2008, Hill was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his services to children's literature.

He is survived by his wife Gillian, son Christopher and daughter Jane, who acknowledged his vast fan base in a statement.

"Although this time of loss is a great hardship for us, we can honestly say that we take some solace in the joy he brought to so many children and families through his work," they said.

"We know Spot, and therefore Eric, has had a beloved presence in so many homes and bedtime readings. And we know we share our grief with many."