July 28 – August 3, 2017 Vol. 19, No. 8

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

by Martha Barkley

I found this precious, scrapbook-style, colorful book last fall at the Charleston Southern University library in South Carolina displayed for students to check out. Since I live next door in The Elms Retirement Community, my library privileges there are limited to two adult books and not juvenile literature.

It was exhilarating to peruse the art work meticulously done by Sweet, many collages, and clever drawings beyond photos. My favorite was E.B. White as a young boy sitting on the Mount Vernon, NY steps of his Victorian home. The artistic author extended the house photo by drawing pen and ink to show the largeness of his privileged-looking home.

My personal discovery in this very well-done biography of E.B. White was the black and white photo of White as an elderly man swinging on the rope in his barn. He and his wife Catherine lived on the coast of Maine near Blue Hill. This saltwater farm location is where Charlotte's Web was inspired and Wilbur the pig learned to trust his friend Charlotte the spider. Templeton the rat, the cackling geese, Wilbur's life being saved even though he was the runt of the litter, the Blue Hill County Fair competition, Charlotte's children ballooning in the barn, all such strong memories of E.B. White's Pulitzer Prize-winning writing.

At age six, E.B. White came to Maine on the train from New York with his entire family. They packed trunks full of clothes for their August on Great Pond, renting several camps beginning around 1906. Bear Springs and Snug Harbor were two of the many places they stayed every summer for many years. E.B. White returned to Great Pond with a new canoe on his car to celebrate one of his birthdays in his eighties, staying once again at Bear Springs.

The biographer/artist includes part of E.B. White's pamphlet that he wrote, designed and had photos advertising Snug Harbor. There you see White in his favorite canoe. Also the birch trees along the shady shoreline of Great Pond.

It is very special to have an afterword by Martha White, granddaughter. She is the fortunate person to now own the "XTC" named canoe that White purchased for his last trip to Great Pond. Several vacations to the Belgrades included Catherine and E.B. White's son who has run a boat works on the coast until quite recently.

Stuart Little was born in 1945 and later E.B. White changed it to Stuart Little "arrived". The notorious librarian at the New York City public library banned the book, but thanks to the many letters from children, the mouse became part of everyone's reading life.

When E.B. White died in 1985, the family had a memorial in Blue Hill near his beloved farm. His son read aloud often to his dad during his illness. Portions of his fine writings were read to remember the time-immemorial words between Wilbur the pig and Charlotte the supportive, friendly spider. "Some Pig!" saved Wilbur's life, a miraculous spider web message. Some Writer! memorializes a great writer's life.

The Trumpet of the Swan arrived last in 1970, since White had many doctor's bills for his wife Katharine. It is a story about a trumpeter swan paying back a store owner for the broken window and the stolen trumpet. The cover reveals a cygnet baby swan pulling the boy's shoestring: both the original sketch by E.B. White's neighbor Dorothy B. Hayes and the final cover art work by Edward Frascino are included.

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White was a basic tool for me while majoring in English in college in the 1960s. It is quite the accomplishment that E. B. White updated this fine original by William Strunk, Jr., his Cornell English professor from college days, 1917 – 1921. It is funny to me to read that fewer words are best, according to Strunk, and so many of E.B. White's characters go on and on in their hilarious chatter. Think the old cob swan talking on and on as his wife patiently says to get to the point, dear. Think Templeton the rat and his piles and stacks of litter scraps as well as the slops delivered to Wilbur.

I keep opening this book designed for juveniles and marvel at the rich content Melissa Sweet provides. Her years of research are evident. The fact that she lives not far from Martha White, granddaughter of E.B., on the coast of Maine, certainly explains her depth of knowledge. While working on this project, Sweet's husband built her the same flat-bottomed boat E.B. had, using the same scow plan, dimensions and all.

Of course, "Once more to the lake . . . " refers to our Great Pond in the Belgrades. His summers here started early on in 1904 at age six. An August photo of the entire family shows them on the steps of a Snug Harbor rental. The family was so large, eight in all, that they rented several lakeside cottages. He would return often on his birthday, July 11, to canoe and share time with his son Joel at Bear Springs Camps.