Elwyn Brooks White (better known to most of us as E.B. White) was born on July 11, 1899. After serving in the army for a time, he attended Cornell and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. While at the university, he edited The Cornell Daily Sun, and after his graduation began writing essays for newspapers. Little did he guess that it would be children’s literature that would make him famous!
It all began with a dream in the 1920s and developed into a series of episodes telling of the life and adventures of a most improbable character: Stuart Little, a mouse born into a human family. White rather liked the story, but once Stuart’s life history was completed, there was little else to do with him but to stuff him into a drawer in a desk. And there he stayed for a couple of decades.
But in 1945, White decided to take a break from his regular work and try his hand at writing something for children. Out came Stuart Little. The book bearing the mouse’s name was published that October, and only a few months later White was surprised to hear that 100,000 copies were in print.
And that was only the beginning. Instead of recounting an “innocent tale of the quest for beauty,” as he described Stuart Little, White’s next work involved a more demanding plot, dangers for the characters to overcome, and a sequence of strange events leading to a happy conclusion. Charlotte’s Web arrived on the scene in 1952. The Trumpet of the Swan followed in 1970.
Another work White is remembered for had its beginnings in his Cornell days. In 1919, he took an English course under William Strunk Jr. The textbook Strunk used happened to be one of his own writing, a slim volume titled The Elements of Style. White said that after graduation he forgot all about the textbook, though the sage advice of the professor stuck with him and influenced his writing. Imagine the memories that must have returned to him in 1957 when Macmillan Publishing asked him to revise the old textbook!
White revised The Elements of Style several times over the years, touching up explanations, adding examples, and updating the list of frequently misused expressions. During the first revision, he also added a valuable chapter of his own, the fifth, entitled “An Approach to Style.”
And what better way to understand E.B. White’s writing style than to hear his own thoughts on the subject? The following are the 21 reminders White gave to the readers of The Elements of Style:
- Place yourself in the background.
- Write in a way that comes naturally.
- Work from a suitable design.
- Write with nouns and verbs.
- Revise and rewrite.
- Do not overwrite.
- Do not overstate.
- Avoid the use of qualifiers.
- Do not affect a breezy manner.
- Use orthodox spelling.
- Do not explain too much.
- Do not construct awkward adverbs.
- Make sure the reader knows who is speaking.
- Avoid fancy words.
- Do not use dialect unless your ear is good.
- Be clear.
- Do not inject opinion.
- Use figures of speech sparingly.
- Do not take shortcuts at the cost of clarity.
- Avoid foreign languages.
- Prefer the standard to the offbeat.
White received the news that 100,000 copies of Stuart Little were in print in a lighthearted manner, proposing to eat 100,000 olives himself and to treat the head of Harper Junior Books to 100,000 stalks of celery in celebration. He did not write with the intention of creating a bestseller. “Start sniffing the air, or glancing at the Trend Machine,” he cautioned the readers of The Elements of Style, “and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.” Instead, he wrote simply because he loved to write. In E.B. White’s own words:
“What am I saying to my readers? Well, I never know. Writing to me is not an exercise in addressing readers, it is more as though I were talking to myself while shaving.”
Meet the Author: E.B. White
Easy biography from Houghton Mifflin.
Letter From E.B. White
Public letter he wrote answering questions about his three children’s books.
Charlotte’s Web: Chapter 1
Reprinted with permission.
The ABCs of Charlotte’s Web
Cute interactive that might just inspire your child!
Charlotte’s Web Mystery Quotes Quiz
Who said what? Fun interactive.
The Trumpet of the Swan
Discussion questions from the Oregon State Library.
Learn more about the trumpeter swan.
Stuart Little by E.B. White
Admittedly, not our favorite, nor as timeless as his other two children’s books. Still worth a read if you wish to round out your study.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Wonderful children’s classic illustrated by Garth Williams. Beautiful, warm story and a joy to read!
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
Louis is different. Heartwarming tale of his failures…and triumphs!
E.B. White Boxed Set
Wonderful for a gift set, or for saving a little bit if you intend to purchase all three books.
Unit Studies & Lesson Plans
Stuart Little Student Study Guide
Discussion questions and ideas for enrichment for each chapter.
Stuart Little Novel Study
Activities for each chapter from Wake County Public School System.
The Power of Words in Charlotte’s Web
Great lesson plan with a focus on words and how they affect people.
Trumpet of the Swan Study Guide
From Birmingham Children’s Theatre, this 18-page download not only covers elements of theater, performance and plays, but also trumpeter swans, trumpets, the characters, friendships, and more.
Charlotte and Wilbur Lapbook
This is not a free resource, but for those interested in a bit more formal study, this highly-rated In the Hands of a Child lapbook may be a good choice. The over 140-page unit/lapbook includes over 30 hands-on activities covering E.B. White, Garth Williams (illustrator), the story characters, chapter-by-chapter summary, and post-reading topics. Fun way to interact with great literature!
Printables & Notebooking Pages
Charlotte’s Web Notebooking Pages
This is not a free resource, but notebooking pages from NotebookingNook never disappoint. This set includes various lined chapter narration pages and copywork pages, and other pages covering spiders, pigs, and farm animals.
Author Notebooking Pages
Simple pages that include room for copywork, narrations, an illustration and dates of birth/death of the author, and books by the author.
E.B. White Notebooking Pages
Simple notebooking pages for copywork, narrations, or wrapping up.