Monday, December 12, 2016

Some Writer The story of EB White by Melissa Sweet

When I read a pretty line
A little flame goes down my spine,
That when I see the morning sun
I laugh to think the world's begun

Extract from a poem by EB White published in 1922.

Melissa Sweet has collected a wealth of information about EB White from his writing as a little boy right through to the famous children's books, his work for the New Yorker magazine and through collected letters which were published in 1976.

Martha White granddaughter of EB White "My grandfather once wrote about letters, 'The visitor to the attic knows the risk he runs when he lifts the lid from a box of old letters. Words out of the past have the power to detain."

This book Some Writer (have you made a connection from the title and Charlotte's Web?) certainly had the power to detain me.  I sat and read the whole book in an afternoon and I think I smiled the whole way through.  Of course we know EB White through his children's books such as my favourite The trumpet of the swan.

"Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting he time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick and generally congenial readers on earth  ...  I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net."

EB White did so much more writing over his life time in magazines, adult books, poetry and newspaper articles.

"A sentence should contain on unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences ... This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."

Melissa Sweet : "The thing about White that comforts and fascinates me (and challenges me) is how he manages to make his words matter more.  It is is as if he is able to make one word do the work of ten."

On reading for the audio book of Charlotte's Web EB White said "It's ridiculous, ... a grown man reading a book that he wrote and being unable to read it aloud because of tears."

Charlotte's Web - the inspiration was his own barn and farm in Maine.  EB White also saw a spider spinning an egg sac and deposit her eggs.  He put the sac in a box and several days later his office in New York was swarming with tiny spiders.
Stuart Little - EB White had a dream on a train about a mouse who was 'fully dressed in dapper clothing with a hat and cane."
Trumpet of the Swan sprang from an article in the NY Times about trumpeter swans.  EB White wondered what if one of these rare swans was born without a voice.

Melissa Sweet chronicles the life of EB White from birth to his death in 1985.  As a young man he and a friend decided to set off in an old Model T roadster.  Earning money while on his grand trip west across America was not easy but two items caught my eye "Supplied the last line in a limerick contest and won $25."  He also picked peas in an orchard for 30 cents an hour!  Somehow Melissa even prints a copy of the winning limerick.

The letters of EB White published in 1976 are quoted throughout the book. In one he described skating with a friend in 1917.  He wrote "We didn't talk much ... we just skated for the ecstasy of skating - a magical glide. ... I remember what it was like to be in love before any of love's complexities or realities or disturbances had entered in, to dilute its splendor and challenge its perfection."

This is a book for all ages.  For children who have enjoyed his classic books and for adults who remember the books and wonder about their creator.  It is also a perfect book for teachers and teacher-librarians who love sharing these classic stories with their classes.  Using Some Writer your lessons will be so much richer.

One of the things that fascinated me was the way EB White had so many different names.

Elwyn Brooks White
En - his name as a young boy
Andy - his college nickname based on the name of Cornell's first president Andrew Dickson White
EB White the name he put on all his writing from a very young age

You will also see his handwriting and editing and you can read how White struggled to find the perfect beginning for Charlotte's Web.

Here are some lines I love (from the end) of this famous book :

"You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you.  ... By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

Listen to an interview from NPR "All things Considered" with Melissa Sweet and see some of the wonderful illustrations.  Read the Kirkus review - it has a star!  Here is the Nerdy Book Club review and you can also see more pages from this book. View a trailer with Melissa. I heartily agree with the School Library Journal reviewer who says:

"Drop everything and share widely."

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