by Melissa Sweet
176 pages; ages 7-10 (and older!)
Elwyn Brooks White loved words. And it’s a good thing he did, because lots of those words ended up in marvelous books, like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little – words I read and reread as I imagined that I, too, might have a little mouse and a red car or a canoe…
So it is fun, fun, FUN to read this wonderful biography by Melissa Sweet. It is full of words, too – and bright collages that give the book the feel of a scrapbook. There are tales of vacations in Maine, writing stories for contests, working as a counselor at Camp Otter.
EB White traveled about, wrote for the New Yorker, and then started scribbling notes that would grow into Stuart Little. “One October evening Andy [E.B.’s nickname] watched a spider spin an egg sac and deposit her eggs,” writes Melissa Sweet. He detached the egg sac, put it into a box, and took it back to New York where he left it on his dresser. A few weeks later he noticed hundreds of tiny spiders climbing out of the box and spinning webs about the room. Later, back at his farm in Maine, he got to wondering whether a spider could save a pig…
Sweet includes a rough draft of Charlotte’s Web that opens, “Charlotte was a grey spider who lived in the doorway of a barn.” He struggled with the opening, jotting down different ways into the story, and then set the story aside for year.
And then, Sweet notes, “he cut to the action …” to the lines we know so well:
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
What I love about this book is how Sweet weaves the story of E.B. White with illustrations that capture specific moments in his life. She even makes grammar fun! E.B. White is famous for his writing advice to Omit Needless Words. He’s also famous for explaining the difference between affect and effect (I know this because I have looked it up in The Elements of Style) and when to use an exclamation point.
Sweet also has fun introducing readers to the times in which E.B. wrote. Opposite the Table of Contents she explains how a manual typewriter works.
And of course there is back matter: an afterword by Martha White (E.B. was her grandfather) with family photos, a timeline of his works, a selected bibliography of works by E.B. White as well as works by others that curious kids might want to check out. And – yay! – there is an index for impatient folks who want to know right this minute where to find something about chickens or pigs or the nitty-gritty stuff of Stuart Little.
It’s Nonfiction Monday!
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