Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White
HMH, 2016 161 pages
Veteran children's book creator and two-time Caldecott honor winning artist takes on both the writing and artwork in this new biography tracing the life and works of E.B. White. Little is known of this important contributor to children's literature. White's Charlotte's Web is considered by some to be the best children's book of all times. It's certainly important and has stood the test of time. Readers learn the story behind the writer of this classic tale, among others, from his childhood in upstate New York, summers in Maine, college years, and career writing for The New Yorker. Why do we know so little about E.B. White? Its because he lived a quiet life, spending most of his time in rural Maine. He was a lover of farm animals, dogs, and boats. He hated public appearances and large gatherings. White occupied himself puttering around the farm, sailing on the nearby lake, spending time with his family, and writing essays, letters, his column for The New Yorker and, yes, wonderful children's books. This volume is infused by the characteristic collage/watercolor art work of Sweet, as well as family photographs contributed by White's granddaughter. The granddaughter also penned an afterward. Other extensive back-matter includes an index, bibliography, author's note, and timeline. Many quotes and except's from White's writings are incorporated within the text and this is my favorite: "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." Hear, Hear!
If Charlotte cracked into this book about her author E.B. White she would weave the word "stunning" into her web. Sweet has pulled together a well written and visual feast for young people. I first encountered the gorgeous end-papers, a mix of watercolors and White's musings about chickens, and turned the page to encounter a family tree and an alluring photo of the White family when E.B. was but a baby. From there the reader turns the page to be greeted by a beautifully constructed page containing this quote of White's: "I believed then, as I do now, in the goodness of the published word: it seemed to contain an essential goodness, like the smell of leaf mold." At this point I was hooked and fell into this book and was dazzled page after page. Sweet lovingly and artistically traces the quiet life of White in a respectful and thorough manner. I knew very little about this important author and now feel as if he is a friend. The design of the volume is perfection and the blend of words, original artwork, historic artifacts, and photographs works much like a symphony. Even though White's life was simple and quiet, the book is never boring and the visual will keep readers turning pages. This was my favorite book of the year. Will it win the Newbery? Probably not, since the artwork is partly what makes it so special. That said, a picture book won last year, so all bets are off. Although the lack of diversity in both the subject matter and the author/artist will not do it any favors. It certainly will show up on "best book" lists and is much deserving of any honors it receives.