“All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” — E. B. White
When I volunteered to do a #FridayReads post, and randomly chose the July 10th slot, I already knew I’d be writing about E. B. White. What I discovered only as I began to write was that that was the day before White’s birthday! He was born 116 years ago, on July 11, 1899.
It may be a bit of a cliché to claim Charlotte’s Web as my favorite children’s book, but I can’t help it. From the moment I first read (and reread) it as a child to the dozens of times I shared it with my own children, it has never failed to move me to tears. The book is more than 60 years old, but is freshly beguiling on every read. And how can you resist a story that kills off one of its main characters, but still uplifts you, ending with (slightly abridged):
[The barn] was the best place to be, thought Wilbur, this warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.
Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. . . . She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
That’s not to pass over Stuart Little or the sometimes overlooked but beautiful homage to wilderness, The Trumpet of the Swan. What E. B. White gave me was an early appreciation for nature and the natural ebbs and flows of life—“Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder,” he advised—and though I didn’t know it at the time, he probably planted the seeds that led to my becoming an author. His prose was witty, wise, and gorgeous; he always chose the right words—and just the right words, no wasted verbiage. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered White also wrote for adults.
I still consult his Elements of Style (the newish version, with the bonus of illustrations by the great Maira Kalman). Check out White’s story and poetry anthologies; they’re a revelation. His poem, “Natural History” is undoubtedly the most romantic poem ever written about a spider (E. B. White is a one-man PR marvel for spiders).
So tomorrow, have a piece of cake for E. B. White—or better yet, revisit one of his classics. Prepare to be utterly enchanted. He was SOME WRITER!
Leslie Kimmelman is a children’s book author and works part-time as an editor at Sesame Street Books. She also works from home as a freelance writer and editor. She lives just outside of New York City, where her and her husband have brought up two children and two dogs.