Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: E. B. White Beyond Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little

E. B. White: Beyond Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little by Laura Baskes Litwin

This is the biography of Elwyn Brooks White, American writer and author of many famous children's books including Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. This book is an interesting read about a writer's struggle to do what he loves. He starts out writing for newspapers but longs for the freedom to write what he wants. He travels cross country just for something to do, hopefully to find inspiration. White lives between New York City and Maine. He marries Katharine Angell, an editor with him at The New Yorker. He finally gets to write his first children's book, Stuart Little, with much opposition from Anne Carroll Moore, the head librarian of children's books at the New York Public Library, at the time, she was one of the most influential people in the country in the field of children's books.

There are many great quotes in this book that I think influenced White's writings. After he did his cross country travel, White wrote:
there is a period near the beginning of every man's life when he has little to cling to except his unmanageable dream, little to support him except good health, and nowhere to go but all over the place (p. 50).
Trumpeter Swans
As White researched spiders for a whole year prior to writing Charlotte's Web, he also tried to research trumpeter swans prior to writing The Trumpet of the Swan. He said of writing about the swans, which I thought was pretty funny,
I am greatly handicapped by being unfamiliar with some of the terrain the story unhappily takes me into. I think it was extremely inconsiderate of my characters to lead me, an old man, into unfamiliar territory (p. 92).
The last quote I will include from this biography, I think sums up White's work.
In a review of Charlotte's Web, writer Eudora Welty remarked that the book was about "friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time." In fact, almost everything White ever wrote was based on these same universal themes, which goes a long way toward explaining why his writing has endured (p. 96-97).
This quote goes along with a quote from my children's literature textbook where Lois Lowry is writing about how her son's rabbit was killed by the neighbor's dog but he stayed with the rabbit because he remembered that no one was with Charlotte when she died in Charlotte's Web. Lois Lowry says,
There is something profoundly moving about a man, a gifted writer, E. B. White, who was able to put down on a page eight words "No one was with her when she died" ... that went to the heart of a little boy and taught him something about lonliness and loss." (p. 153 in The Joy of Children's Literature
The author shows that a lot of research went into writing this book. It is full of Chapter Notes where readers can look in the back to find the source of that information. I also liked the timeline of E. B. White's life in the back of the book as well. There are Further Reading materials at the back of the book for readers who are interested in getting more information about him.

I was really interested in reading more about E. B. White because I don't remember reading any of his books except The Trumpet of the Swan, which I read one summer for school when I was eight or nine. I don't remember much of the book though except that my stepmom was so excited for me to read it.
Rockport Boat Club Burgee
Another reason I chose E. B. White for my second biography is that my boyfriend is good friends with his great grandson, Nick White. They used to teach sailing together in Rockport Harbor, Maine, where they both grew up. I've met him a few times, so I wanted to know more about this author!

Well now I need to go out and read Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little... I know, I know, How have I not read either of them before?!

Check out NPR's audio How E. B. White Spun 'Charlotte's Web' if you're interested in hearing about the #1 children's book of all time, which has inspired a new book, The Story of Charlotte's Web.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Kristine!

    So glad to have come across your blog! I'm researching for a very special 'interview' I am working to secure with one Ms Fern Arable... now a very matured, productive and prosperous woman, for sure!

    Your contacts for more about the backstories to Charlotte's Web and E.B. White will be useful. Thank you for that.

    We have a number of 'threads' in common, I see.

    Take a visit to and you will quickly come to understand...

    We are all connected! On the Web of Life.

    Specifically; see story from 26 Dec, 2013.

    Looking forward to your reply!

    Very best regards/

    Charlotte (of course! ;) )