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).
“When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way. He was only about two inches high; and he had a mouse’s sharp nose, a mouse’s tail, a mouse’s whiskers, and the pleasant, shy manner of a mouse.”
Stuart Little begins with White’s trademark clear, lucid prose, reveling in simple details and winsome eccentricities. He presents Stuart, the mouse who is somehow a son in a human family, with such matter-of-factness that readers accept the strange premise and move on to the captivating story.
Although the family makes many accommodations to Stuart’s diminutive size, no one treats him like a mouse and he doesn’t really act like a mouse. Instead, he is a full-fledged member of the family, with a keen sense of fashion and a nose for adventure.
The Little family lives in New York City, and the city offers young Stuart a whole world of possibilities. He goes sailing in Central Park, piloting a toy sailboat into an exciting duel on the high seas. He endures a trip to the garbage barge, rescued by his beloved Margalo, a bird who nests for a while in the Little’s Boston fern. And he fends off the evil intentions of the family’s cat, Snowbell.
As children do, Stuart matures and decides to set off from home to seek his fortune. He drives a tiny car North, looking for adventure and hoping to find Margalo.
This quirky little book has endured for decades because it resonates with young readers who often feel so small in the big world. Stuart is even smaller, yet he asserts his rightful place and commands respect. The structure of the book also supports young readers and listeners. The 131 pages move at a sprightly pace, and the chapters work as vignettes that do not require the listener to carry too many details from story to story. Garth Williams’ iconic illustrations lend memorable support, making Stuart Little the perfect transition from picture books to novels.
While Charlotte’s Web may be the best known of E.B. White’s books, Stuart Little deserves a look as an easy way to show families the joy of reading aloud.