'Some Writer!' beautifully celebrates the life of E.B. White

This innovative biography is aimed at readers aged 7-10, but will delight E.B. White fans of any age.

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White Written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 176 pp. Age range: 7-10 years

Can you imagine a book that makes you want to reread your favorite childhood stories, renew your subscription to The New Yorker, and buy a farmhouse in Maine all at the same time? That’s how I felt about this glorious new biography.

E.B. White is the author not only of the classic children’s novels, "Charlotte’s Web," "The Trumpet of the Swan," and "Stuart Little." He also had a hand in "The Elements of Style," by his college professor William Strunk. The publisher’s suggested audience for this remarkable biography is readers aged 7-10. But whether the name E.B. White is a new discovery or a much-loved author, Some Writer! will captivate readers of all ages.

Melissa Sweet’s book is filled with her watercolors and collages created from various media – even an old manual typewriter!. Letters and memorabilia, including photographs of the White family’s various beloved dogs and farm animals, are all part of the delightfully captivating and informative illustrations.

As Sweet explained in an interview, the book quickly changed from a traditional 32-page picture book to a 13-chapter, 176-page biography once she realized there was so much material to be mined. With the help of White’s granddaughter, who writes an afterword to the book, the author had access to scrapbooks and family memories. The resulting art is masterful, as is the writing. 

After a childhood spent on the lakes in Maine and an early career writing for various magazines, “Andy” White as he was known, came to the writing of children’s books somewhat reluctantly, or at least slowly. He was encouraged to write the stories of a beloved tiny mouse and a triumphant pig by the renowned publishing icon Ursula Nordstrom who became his editor at Harper and Brothers.

Fascinating glimpses of the writer creating his masterpieces include the evolution of the famous first line of "Charlotte’s Web." Editor and author worked collaboratively to choose the illustrator (Garth Williams), and Sweet shares the back and forth between Williams and White over the depiction of Charlotte. Williams “struggled to invent a loveable spider-face.” Many sketches later, the heroine has a Mona Lisa-like face, to which White added “two eyes and three hairs to Garth’s drawing. Now she was pretty and a New Englander.”

It’s clear from this biography that White was not a man to shout his own praises.  “Thoreau’s cry of ‘simplicity, simplicity, simplicity’ inspired not only his writing but how he lived his life,” Sweet tells us.

But I imagine this is what E.B. White might say upon opening Sweet’s biography: "This is Some Book!"

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