Happy Birthday, E.B. White!

“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.

Charlotte's Web

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.

Absolute perfection.

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.

elementsofstyleebwhite

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).

E.B. White

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.

Happy Birthday, E.B. White!

Reading Aloud—To Your TWEEN?

Lori Haskins Houran is a children’s book editor and the author of several books for young children, including How to Spy on A Shark. Lori shares some of her favorite tales to read out loud to her tweens in this week’s Friday Reads!

It is weird that I read to my kids every night?

They’re not little. My younger son is 9, and my older son turns 12 next month. They’ve been reading independently for years now, but they still insist that I read aloud at bedtime. The few times I’ve tried to beg off—I’m tired./I have a sore throat./Downton Abbey is coming on!—they’ve looked as shocked as if I suggested skipping dinner.

Pippi LongstockingSideways Stories from Wayside School

Occasional slacking aside, I do love reading to my boys. It’s a chance for snuggling—and smuggling. By that I mean I can sneak in personal favorites they might otherwise miss: Little House in the Big Woods, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Pippi Longstocking, All-of-a-Kind Family. (I’m just now realizing how many of my choices feature female protagonists. Not once have my sons complained or even commented. So much for the old publishing saw that boys don’t like stories about girls.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factorystuart little

A few other must-reads I would have added had my kids not already enjoyed them at school or on their own: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the essential trio of Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little.

Not every selection has worked out as well as I expected. I thought my boys would enjoy The Borrowers, but they didn’t warm to it. A Wrinkle in Time felt confusing as a read-aloud, and I’m sad to say that we gave up on it after three nights. I hope my boys will read it to themselves soon and adore it as much as I do. 

a wrinkle in time

I don’t always choose the books, of course. My boys’ picks have included everything from comic books and movie tie-ins (I can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about Batman, Star Wars, and the Avengers) to gems that I might otherwise have missed, among them Jacqueline Davies’ The Lemonade War, Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda, and Cynthia Lord’s Rules.

rules

I don’t know long I’ll continue reading aloud to my kids. Will I Skype them in college and read The Secret Garden? No, no, that would definitely be weird…right? But for now, I’ll keep going.

Do you still read to your tweens/pre-teens? What’s on your must-read list?

Reading Aloud—To Your TWEEN?