For the month of December, My Take/Your Take focuses on taking fresh perspectives on familiar characters. This week, we look at A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White by Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo.
Prisca: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider beautifully spans the life of E.B. White. Elementary students frequently read White’s books, particularly Charlotte’s Web. A Boy, A Mouse, and a Spider provides students with a glimpse of who he was, including when he was their age. I myself didn’t know much about him before reading this book. I can’t help but smile about his love for animals (he kept pet mouse a secret from his mother!) and his passion for writing. Students will enjoy this, as well as how he got his ideas for Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider tells the story almost poetically.
Ray: I am familiar with White’s stories, but not his background and how the books came to be. This book, with its writing and art work, help to bring this information to light. I wonder where E.B. White’s love of creatures, both large and small, came from. Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo bring White’s life to us in a beautiful way. Now, I want to go back and read each one of White’s books.
Prisca: I agree, and Castillo’s stunning art enhances Herkert’s written text. The warm earth colors she uses not only give the feel of being ‘back in time’, but also the loving, peaceful life he lived as a child and later as an adult. The page layouts also strike me. The first part of the book varies between double-page spreads, single-page images, and pages with multiple smaller images. This seems to move time forward in White’s life at a faster pace.
Near the middle of the book, there is a single-page image of White in bed writing in his journal. The written text ends with, “Writing filled him with joy. This is where I belong.” Castillo also has five consecutive double-page spreads about White’s work on the college newspaper, the development of Stuart Little, his marriage and his move to Maine with his family. It feels like Castillo slowed down White’s story to emphasize this critical time in his life when so much was happening.
Ray: Yes, I like the change in the page layouts. It adds an interesting rhythm to the story. Something that catches my eye is how Castillo incorporates the element of texture into her illustration style. In the opening double-page spread Castillo applies different textures to different shapes to create shadows or the feel of a rug on the floor. One of my favorite double-page spreads is the moonlit scene with Elwyn sitting on the front step writing in his journal. As an artist I would call this a dry brush effect. These multicolored layers add an exciting dimension to the illustration, rather than just one solid color layering. This same technique is in the double-page traincar spread in Stuart Little.
Textures abound in the following double-page spread, with E.B. talking to a crowd of people in a living-room setting. The scene of the car arriving at their new home in Maine is another example of the drybrush technique. The blue water in the later boathouse scene uses this technique to create the feel of a rushing stream. Castillo’s illustration style, with the warm colors, tectures, drybrushing, dark outlines etc. convey this heartwarming story of E.B and his love for all creatures, whatever they are.
Prisca: I agree! This book gives students rich insights into White’s life, which will add to their enjoyment of his books. It will also encourage them to look for writing inspirations that surround them every day.
Title: A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White
Authors: Barbara Herkert and Lauren Castillo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Date Published: October 24 2017
This is the first installment of December 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.