Title: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider
Author: Barbara Herkert
Illustrator: Lauren Castillo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company, 2017
Themes: authors, E. B. White, inspiration
When young Elwyn White lay sick in bed,
a bold mouse befriended him.
Elwyn made a home for his companion.
If Mother knew,
she would not approve.
When young E. B. lay in bed as a sickly child, a little house mouse befriended him. When the time came for kindergarten, Elwyn was terrified, and longed for his home on the farm, where animal friends awaited him at the end of each day. Propelled by his fascination with the outside world, he began to jot down his reflections in a journal. His love of writing carried young ‘Andy’ (his college nickname) into adulthood, even leading him to his wife. But it was his love of wild places and animals that lead him to Maine, and a farm full of animals (including a pig he raised). It was there that he was inspired to write down the stories about Stuart Little, the mouse raised by humans, that he’d been telling his nieces, nephews, and children for years. The animals he loved also inspired him to write Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpet of the Swan.
Why I like this book:
Today, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web are beloved classics of children’s literature, and E. B. White is recognized as one of the finest American writers of all time. The author brings especially the childhood of this much loved author alive with sensory moments of fear and inspiration on young Elwyn’s life. Herkert uses a spare poetic language in this biography, honing in on White’s personal inspirations to evolve, from his connection with animals and his sense of place. As you might expect from a biography about this author, every word in this text counts, and the imagery is super visual:
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
I have been a fan of Lauren Castillo’s art for years, and once again she achieves such intimacy and warmth in creating these biographical moments in time. She changes the pacing by varying single and double paged spreads or having more than one scene on a page. Note the smooth use of almost identical double-paged spider spreads–first of White as a boy, looking up at a spider in its web, then as an adult, also gazing at a spider in their web.
This is a must for your school or home library, and don’t miss the author’s note giving far more biographical detail, as well as a bibliography.
Read one of E. B. White’s classics to your children!
Here’s an interview I did a couple of years ago with the illustrator.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.