You might think that writing a children's book would have been an easy task for an acclaimed poet and essayist like E. B. White. During his career of writing for literary magazines, especially The New Yorker, he was quick and prolific. Though he wrote about what he knew well - farmyard animals - it took him seven years to write Charlotte's Web. Michael Sims recounts the effort in The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic.
The Story of Charlotte's Web is divided into three parts, the first two being accounts of White's childhood and career as a writer. They are titled "Elwin" and "Andy" for the names to which he answered at different ages. Friends and family never called him "E. B." The first half of the book serves as a good biographical introduction to the author's life up to the point he wrote his classic children's novel. Then Sims tells about the writing of Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web.
I particularly liked learning about the collaboration of author, illustrator, and editor in creating the books. Stuart Little was illustrator Garth Williams first children's book, and he was well known by the time he tackled the difficult assignment of drawing a realistic and sympathetic spider. Editor Ursala Nordstrom of Harper & Brothers fostered and defended the books, both of which drew heavy criticism from New York Public librarian and Horn Book Magazine reviewer Anne Carroll Moore. Nordstrom had an accomplished career as editor for Margaret Wise Brown, Margret and H. A. Rey, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Maurice Sendak, Shel Silverstein, and many others. I also liked reading about White's lifetime love of wildlife and being outdoors.
The Story of Charlotte's Web is the kind of book that is a pleasure to read and makes you want to read others. It belongs in many public libraries.
Sims, Michael. The Story of Charlotte's Web: E. B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic. Walker & Company, 2011. ISBN 9780802777546.