Jul 11, 2007

E.B. White July 11 1899 - Oct. 1 1985

"Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn't have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn't blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too -- truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act." --E.B. White

3rd grade was a miserable year for me. My family had moved from California to Minnesota and as far as I was concerned, it was like moving to the moon. The move started as a cross country summer trip with my mom, my grandmother and our three cats. The idea was for our little family to see the US and then visit relatives, the bulk of our family tree then living in the small town of Cloquet, Minnesota. After the visit with hundreds of people I've never met pinching my cheeks and talking to me like they had always lived next door, we were supposed to return to sunny California.

The return trip didn't happen.

I got my first taste of snow that year. The first flurry was pretty cool and watching my cats adjust was funny but by January, the novelty had worn off. Going outside to play was like preparing for a NASA mission with thermals, boots and bulky gloves. 90 percent of the US lives with this but up to this point, I had never been outside in anything heavier than a sweater
I couldn't seem to find a rhythm. I wasn't the teachers pet or the class wise-ass. I didn't feel close to any kids at school and being from California didn't give me any street cred. To top it all off, My grandmother had a heart attack and my mom had to get a second job and leave me with a baby sitter.

One of the high spots of the year was my teacher reading out loud to the class. The two books I remember her reading were Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web, both by E.B. White.

I hadn't been read to in school since Kindergarten. Listening to the story in silence in my classroom was the same experience you get by seeing a good movie in the theater. Sure, you may have surround sound and a plasma screen at home but sitting in the dark and collectively experiencing the surprises with an audience is very different. The experience of first listening to these two books has made them a personal favorite and I think maybe it's time for me to reread them.

In 1945 when Stuart Little came out, E. B. [Elwyn Brooks] White was known as an essayist. He had been a contributing editor for the New Yorker for twenty years. Born in Mount Vernon, NY he graduated from Cornell University, tried his hand at newspaper writing and copy editing before writing essays for the New Yorker. The idea for Stuart came out of a vivid dream while on a train trip.

He wrote Charlotte's Web as a present for a niece. The idea came from his farm where White lived with his wife, ducks, geese, pigs, cows and an occasional rat and spider. Not a quick writer [a trait I can really relate to] White said his niece had outgrown the book when it was released in 1952.

White's last book for kids was the Trumpeter Swan released in 1970. The year of it's release E. B. [Andy to his friends], was given the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal the medal is in recognition of " books that make a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children." Since 60 years after their publication all three books have become media classics spawning, movies, cartoons and merchandise, I'd say the award was an understatement

White died on October 1, 1985 at his farm in Maine.

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