Thanks to a family vacation in May, I got an early start on the beach reading season with a week of sun, sand, waves and books. Though I read some fiction, the book I enjoyed the most was Michael Sims‘ The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and The Birth of An American Classic, on sale tomorrow. In a beautifully crafted narrative, Sims traces the life of E.B. White from his shy boyhood to his successful career as a New Yorker writer and editor who would create one of the most beloved children’s books of the 20th century. Readers learn about White’s early love of the natural world, his devotion to his Maine farm and the long and thoughtful process that led to Charlotte’s Web.
White researched spiders for a full year to bring realism to his portrayal of Charlotte A. Calvatica, and after he had finished a draft of the book, he put it away for almost a year to mull over his creation:
“While he incubated eggs and sheared sheep and mended fencing, while he corresponded with humorist James Thurber and naturalist Edwin Way Teale . . . the manuscript sat in its box, growing as quickly as a kitten. Its images, its scenes and poetry, ripened in Andy’s mind and matured into a better form. Gradually he realized that he wanted a more human perspective on the barnyard community.”
In March 1952, when E.B. (Andy) White showed up unannounced with the final manuscript at the office of his editor, Ursula Nordstorm, she realized almost immediately that she had something very special in hand. Harper rushed Charlotte’s Web into print within months and the cascade of acclaim began.
Michael Sims, a talented writer and editor who formerly lived in Nashville and and has contributed many reviews to BookPage, has shared some of the steps of his research and writing with us over the past two years, so it’s been especially exciting to see this book in its final form. I highly recommend it to any reader with an interest in E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web, and more broadly, in children’s literature, natural history and the beauty and mystery of the creative process. If you love books and the quirky, fascinating people who write them, you’ll get caught up in The Story of Charlotte’s Web.
And now you’ll have a chance to read it, too. The book’s publisher, Bloomsbury, has furnished us with five copies of The Story of Charlotte’s Web for readers of The Book Case.
TO ENTER: We’ve seen several excellent books about books in recent months. In the comments, tell us about one book (besides Charlotte’s Web) that you love so much you would be excited to read a book about how it came to be.
CONTEST DETAILS: The prize is one copy of The Story of Charlotte’s Web. Contest is open to North American residents only. Five winners will be chosen using random.org from among the comments received by 6 p.m. CDT on June 10.
ETA: Congrats to our five winners! Ronald, Jessica, Lori, Martha and Susan all had some great behind-the-book ideas – Hawaii by James Michener, A Wrinkle in Time, Atlas Shrugged, Black Beauty and Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce.
Contest is now closed.