When Melissa Sweet’s book, Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White, arrived in the mail, I had a rather tall stack of books waiting to be read and reviewed, but I knew immediately that Melissa’s book would be next. E. B. White is one of my writer heroes, and I treasure a very early copy of his One Man’s Meat.
But I made a mistake. Right after lunch, I opened the book just to read a couple of pages. And that was the rest of my day! I took the book outside, sat in the shade on a very nice sunny afternoon, and savored the entire book. While it was written for children, I have to say I was captivated by it.
This is a very imaginative biography, including wonderful illustrations and photographs, stories that take you through White’s life, and excerpts of his writing. You surely know that White is famous for his children’s books, from Charlotte’s Web, his story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte, to Stuart Little about a mouse.
I grab One Man’s Meat off my book shelf every once in a while to enjoy and remind myself of what great writing is all about. The essays in that book are priceless and ageless.
Well, let’s get back to Melissa’s book. Throughout the book, the quotes and excerpts from White’s books and articles are remarkable and inspiring. For example, the very first one is this:
“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.”
Only E.B. White could link published words to leaf mold in a good way!
The illustration of White’s old manual typewriter, a Corona, reminded me of my Dad’s typewriter. Dad’s name was Ezra G. Smith, and at the beginning of the manufacturer’s name, Smith Corona, he added E.G. And at the top of the typewriter, he painted E. G. Smith in large letters. He was famous for his letters to the editor, and the folks at the Kennebec Journal always knew the letters came from Dad, even if he didn’t sign his name, because two of the letters on his typewriter didn’t work!
I guess E. B. didn’t have that problem. And I think his life’s story will inspire many kids. White was a shy boy – and man – who avoided the spotlight his entire life. He didn’t even like to write. Some of his books took years to complete. He preferred to farm, canoe, and spend his time outdoors.
White’s favorite experiences were in Maine, where summer trips to the Belgrade Lakes probably are what led him eventually to live full time on a farm in Brooklyn, on the coast. I loved this from him:
“I’ll be 85 in July. Am still riding a bike but have lost the sight in one eye, along with a lot of other losses. Last fall I was tooling along on my 3-speed Raleigh when a coyote emerged from the woods and followed me. I don’t think he was anything but curious, but it was kind of spooky to have a wild animal tailing me. I was probably his first octogenarian on wheels and he just wanted to get a good look at it.”
And there, on the next page, was old E. B., swinging on a rope swing in his barn!
- B. was called Andy throughout his adult life. He suffered from dementia the last year of his life, confined to bed with round-the-clock help. His son Joel visited him every day, often reading to him. In his memoir, Let Me Finish, Roger Angell, Andy’s stepson, wrote: “Joe told me that in that long year he’d read aloud to his father often, and discovered that he enjoyed listening to his own writings, though he wasn’t always clear about who the author was. Sometimes he’d raise a hand and impatiently wave a passage away: not good enough. Other evenings, he’d listen to the end, almost at rest, and then ask again who’d written these words.
‘You did, Dad,’ Joe said. There was a pause, and Andy said, ‘Well, not bad.’
Indeed, as Melissa noted, “E. B. White’s writing is, as they say in Maine, the finest kind.” Not bad, not bad at all.
And I must thank Melissa for bringing that wonderful writing, and E. B. White’s story, to us in such an entertaining and captivating way. You will love this book, as will your children and grandchildren. And then, it will be time to read all of E.B.’s great children’s books!
NOTE: Melissa White, who lives in Maine, has illustrated nearly 100 children’s books and won many awards. Recently, she started writing books as well, and we are all blessed by that. You can read more about Melissa and her books and activities at www.melissasweet.net.