By E.B. White (1945)
E.B. White wrote three novels for children – and all of them are classics. Stuart Little (1945); Charlotte’s Web (1953); and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970).
Stuart Little is perhaps known to some from the live action film adaptation of a few years ago (voiced by Michael J. Fox) but as any child will tell you – “You have to read the book. The book is better.”
In the case of Stuart Little – since it was White’s first novel for children – the book is not only different than the movie – it’s a little off-kilter and different in other ways.
Stuart Little begins with White’s trademark clear, lucid prose – reveling in simple details and winsome eccentricities.
Stuart is a mouse – a mouse-sized mouse – who is somehow adopted by a real life family who live in New York City. And although the family make many accommodations to Stuart’s diminutive size, no one treats him like a mouse. He doesn’t really act like a mouse.
Students initially take to Stuart because he is cute and easy to identify with – and of course Garth Williams’ classic non-pareil illustrations make it even easier. But after that – the reader/listener is thrown off balance.
Stuart goes his own way. He goes sailing in Central Park. By himself! He drives a small automobile supplied by his human “brother.” He falls in love – with a bird!
Which is to say that Stuart Little keeps you off-balance. This is perhaps disorienting for a handful of readers who don’t know what to make of Stuart Little. But in truth this is what literature is for. To throw us a little off-balance – so that we may grow and have our perspectives enlarged when we learn how to make sense of what this author is up to.
That’s the experience of reading Stuart Little. Once you re-establish your balance – then the details of the sailboat race are charming. Stuart’s pursuit and courting of Margolo borrows from both Shakespeare and Y.A. teen romances. Once children realize that Stuart Little is not just about how the mouse escapes from the cat – Stuart Little becomes something more.
Stuart Little offers a unique sensibility. E.B. White’s sensibility. Stuart’s world view. Families that share Stuart Little together can add him to their repertoire. We’re sure he will enlarge and enrich the way students and families experience their next book or movie or TV show.