In October 1949, he wrote his publisher, Cass Canfield: “My next book is in sight. I look at it every day. I keep it in a carton, as you would a kitten.” Andy spent the year studying spiders. “In this,” he wrote, “I found the key to the story.” Andy would not make his heroine, Charlotte A. Cavatica, conform to his narrative; his story would have to adapt to how spiders behave. For example, Andy learned that some male species of the spider “dance,” so in one draft, Charlotte tells Wilbur, the pig, that her husband was “some dancer.” When Fern listens as Charlotte tells the barn animals how her cousin cast a web that caught a fish, Andy was being true to spiders because in rare cases spiders have caught small birds and fish. And when Wilbur takes Charlotte’s egg sac to the farm in his mouth, it makes sense because A. cavatica‘s egg sacs are waterproof.
There are many biographies published every year for a child audience, whether in picture book or long form, (including many of the subjects of an artistic inclination). Most of the time I wonder whether there is inherent child appeal there, and I think this is one of those times when there probably is, when the author does not have the additional burden of introducing the subject to its readers because many will be familiar with CHARLOTTE’S WEB, TRUMPET OF THE SWAN, and STUART LITTLE. Sweet navigates the basic outline of White’s life, while providing wonderful insight into his creative output as well, as the passage above illustrates.
In our original discussion of SOME WRITER! in the biography section, I questioned whether our feelings about those children’s books color our interpretation of Sweet’s book. I think it can (especially on the initial read), but not necessarily. Another concern that people have raised is whether the excellent illustrations and book design doesn’t also unfairly prejudice us in favor of the book. I don’t find either of these arguments convincing enough to knock it out of the top group of contenders. For me, it only suffers from not being SAMURAI RISING. But that begs the question of what excellence of presentation for a child audience–for a younger child audience, no less–looks like. Just as FULL OF BEANS is a foil for WOLF HOLLOW in this respect, so too is SOME WRITER! to SAMURAI RISING.
SOME WRITER! has already won the Orbis Pictus Award for Nonfiction from NCTE and seems like a good bet for the Sibert, too. Calling Caldecott has already discussed the book’s merits relative to that award, and now here we consider its Newbery chances. Needless to say, I think this one could have several stickers decorating its cover in late January.
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at email@example.com
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