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Friday, January 26, 2018

A Boy, a Mouse and a Spider: The Story of E. B. White, written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Lauren Castillo. Henry Holt and Company, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $26.99 ages 6 and up

"When the time came
for kindergarten,
shy Elwyn fought
with all his might.
Noooo! I won't go!
His parents persisted.
Elwyn now sat
in a spotless linen suit,
fretting over his fears.
What if Miss Greene
called on him?"

Are you planning on reading Stuart Little or Charlotte's Web to your students, or to your own children? They are such outstanding stories, and will live in their memories for years to come. As you prepare for sharing either of those books, you might like to first read this fascinating picture book biography, both for yourself and for your listeners. It is a brilliant introduction to the boy who became the man who wrote those books.

E.B. White loved animals from early childhood, befriending a house mouse while he was sick at home and keeping it as a pet. His mother did not know. As he grew, he enjoyed the stable animals and the barn where they were housed. He used all of his senses as he explored the natural world that surrounded him.

"In the refuge of the stable,
Elwyn's senses sharpened
to the ripe scent of manure,
the creak of harness leather,
the perfect shape of eggs,
the snort of tired horses,
the sweet-dry smell of hay,
and a spider's masterpiece."

Ms. Herkert is definitely preparing her readers for the shared story. Her well-chosen language and storytelling voice engage readers in this book that begins in childhood, when Elwyn shows an interest in his surroundings and records what he sees and how he feels about it. Writing becomes his passion. At college, he contributes to his school newspaper. A doting uncle at Christmas visits, he tells stories with joy and abandon about a mouse he dreamt of while on a train trip. After working in New York for a number of years and longing for the quiet of farm life, he moves his family to 'his dream in Maine'.

Farm life suits him, and from there he writes his three books for children.

The polished prose is matched beautifully with Lauren Castillo's gorgeous brown ink and watercolor images. The spreads enhance the text, and provide a clear view of the world so loved by Elwyn as he moves from farm to city and back to the idyllic atmosphere of the White homestead in Maine. They are textured, filled with light and shadow, peace and beauty. You will surely find a favorite ... or two ... or more. I will leave that to you and to your listeners.

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