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Better Than Pop Rocks!

February 21, 2017

 

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White (author of Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, Trumpet of the Swan) by Melissa Sweet is for the eyes what Pop Rocks is for the mouth. Bighearted blasts for the soul, Melissa Sweet concocts the perfect eruption of real photographs, delicate illustrations, layers of barn materials, and authentic original sketches. And that's just the visual display. The superb writing balances the personal life of Elwyn Brooks White with pertinent career facts cajoling readers into craving more. Going to and fro, I found myself savoring the splendid visuals between anticipated doses of polished words. Words that danced into my heart as a fascinating author is revealed.  

 

Charlotte's Web was published in 1952 and is still widely read.  Kids instinctively identify with Fern's desire to protect Wilbur.  The relationship between Wilbur and Charlotte helps young readers understand how friendship can get you through difficult times. Stuart Little was published in 1945 and Trumpet of the Swan, 1970. Three beautifully written stories adored by young readers. Did Elwyn ever wish he'd written a masterpiece for adults? His stepson Roger Angell said the thought would not have occurred to him. Elwyn once said, "Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time.  You have to write up, not down.  Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. . . Children are game for anything.  I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net."   The great children's authors heed to this advice.  I find that my favorite books share intentional respect for the child's intelligent, capable mind.  Seeming effortless.

 

En (name as a child) was one of six children growing up in Mount Vernon, New York.  His father was a lover of words and made a profound impact on En's early writing years.  He extracted the writer out of his small framed son. His mom, kind and quiet, dreamed of living on a farm. The family spent their summers in Belgrade Lakes, Maine (Google it. It's beautiful!). En loved Maine and would later have a home there. Both parents' influences are evident in E.B. White's books.  

 

In college (Cornell University) his classmates nicknamed him after Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White.  From then on, to friends and family, Elwyn White was Andy White.  Having such a rare, youthful and enlightened perspective of the world, he looked at things as a child would.  Especially during the times he spend in Maine. The newness of a hatched egg.  A spider's web.  The farmhouse. Road trips engrossed him.  He was enthralled with new places and towns. He dug for the little jewels in our country. The real magical places. A walking path. Trolley.  A lake. And the way people lived. Cultures. Settings.  He published Here Is New York, an essay about strolling around Manhattan, written one sweltering summer from a hotel room in NYC. He saw the beauty in the simple things and shared it with the world in a way that inspired people.  In his obituary in the New Yorker it read "White had abundantly that most precious and least learnable of writerly gifts-the gift of inspiring affection in the reader." Andy wrote for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine,  and published a plethora of other works in poetry and essays. He won a multitude of awards including a Pulitzer Prize special citation for letters in 1978.  Married to Katharine Sergeant Angell, fiction editor at The New Yorker, he spent most of his adult life on his farm in Maine.  He and Katharine had a son, Joel.  In 1977, after a series of long illnesses, Katharine passed away.  Eight years later, Andy died at his home.

 

The biography is wrapped up with a timeline and a letter from Andy in response to essays from a sixth grade class. He shares his pleasure in that many students felt the beauty and goodness of the world and that if we can feel that when we are young, then there is great hope for us when we grow older. I couldn't agree more! And he sent them  a blown out egg from his goose named Felicity. Cool!

 

Even if your kids haven't read Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web or Trumpet of the Swan, this biography will make   them want to.  Just considering the illustrations and bite size captions alone will envelope their full attention. Wondrous explosions, big and small, jolts the mind with the most delightful knowledge.  Like Pop Rocks in your mouth.  But this book excites your brain.  Even better!

 

 

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