A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White

Bibliography: Herkert, Barbara. Castillo, Lauren. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider. 2017. New York. Henry Holt and Company. ISBN-13: 9781627792455

Plot:

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider is a touching biography of children’s author E.B. White. This 61ognoKfS4Lchildren’s book chronicles the important moments of White’s life and how they shaped his stories.

This children’s book follows White’s life from childhood to school, college, and adulthood. The inspiration for his most notable works is woven into his experiences on the farm, both as a young boy and adult. There he enjoyed the refuge of the stable where his “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.” On his farm in Maine he was inspired to write Charlotte’s Web. As a shy and introverted child, White befriended a mouse; as an adult he turned that memory into Stuart Little.

As a young child, he began to write and won prizes for his poetry. “The blank page called to Elwyn. Writing filled him with joy. This is where I belong.” His passion for writing carried on with him into college, where he worked as editor-in-chief for the Cornell Daily Sun. He created stories for his family and friends and over the holidays he performed oral renditions of Stuart’s tales. After working for the New Yorker magazine, White took his family away from the bustling city and bought a farm in Maine. There he was able to write and live an idyllic farm life.

Analysis:

A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider is an ode to author E.B. White and illustrator Garth Williams.

61nGG4DlZpLCastillo’s imagery is reminiscent of Williams’ illustrations, playing with similar lines and mirroring fading landscapes. Castillo’s work is much more colorful and vibrant than Williams’ traditional black and white illustrations, though she manages to capture the spirit of his work while adding her own touch. The brown, yellow, and orange undertones are found throughout the story as they tie together White’s farm and city lives. She pays special attention to the detail of the animals and landscape, which are integral White’s own development as a writer. Castillo’s breathtaking illustrations and beautiful farmland help bring the reader into White’s world and give tribute to the extraordinary work of Garth Williams.

Herkert’s lyrical writing is similar to White’s prose. She writes: “[He] filled his barn with stoic sheep, anxious hens, and gossiping geese. But still had a mouse on his mind.” Her short sentences and alliteration help the story flow like a children’s book should and helps the reader to forget that this is a biography. She keeps the tender tone of White’s work alive in this beautifully crafted tale of his creative life. 

Reviews:

“Herkert’s elegant prose and Castillo’s stunning brown ink-and-watercolor illustrations team up for a magnificent model of what a picture book can be.” – Kirkus Reviews

“This gentle biography of beloved children’s book author E.B. White reads more like a sweet story than dry reportage and drives home the message that shy, observant kids can grow up to create great art.” – Common Sense Media

“Herkert and Castillo pay tender tribute to Elwyn White who, as E.B. White, would write three enduring books for children: Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. In a subtle narrative structured like verse, Herkert dwells on White’s childhood, on the foundational connections he made to nature (including a mouse he secretly kept in his room), and his attentiveness to his natural surroundings.” – Publisher’s Weekly

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Review by Amanda G.