Tuesday, April 13, 2010

That's what SHE said

Fuse #8 has revealed the final result of her prodigious survey of what we (meaning those of us who read Fuse and voted in her poll) think are the top 100 novels for middle-grade readers. Not a big surprise there at #1, but since the Horn Book is infamous for its allegedly dislike of E.B. White's book I thought I would take the opportunity to review the record.

Here is what Anne Carroll Moore, NYPL Dragon Lady, wrote in her "Three Owls Notebook," a column she wrote for the Horn Book, in December of 1952:
From picture books I step into real trouble and I may as well confess that I find E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, illustrated by Garth Williams (Harper $2.50), hard to take from so masterly a hand. There is no one whose writing I more deeply regard in the adult field. Stuart Little disappointed me but thousands of people liked it. Stuart Little was a dream story. Charlotte’s Web is born of real life in the wonderful countryside of my own childhood. I grew up on a large farm in Maine. There are chapters of great beauty and rare understanding of the life of farm animals in Charlotte’s Web. They moved me very deeply as I read them without Garth Williams’ fine pictorial interpretation, but as a children’s book it never came clear from the preoccupation of an adult who had not spent a childhood on a farm. The story got off to a fine start. Fern was as living a girl as one could wish when she rescued the runt pig from her father’s ax, but no such country child would have spent day after day beside the manure pile to which the pig was consigned and repeated afterward to as dumb a mother as a parent’s page ever invoked what the animals told her in their language. Fern, the real center of the book, is never developed. The animals never talk. They speculate. As to Charlotte, her magic and mystery require a different technique to create that lasting interest in spiders which controls childish impulse to do away with them.
  Bear in mind that ACM had complete editorial control over her column; thirteen pages later,  then-editor Jennie Lindquist gives the official Horn Book imprimatur in the review section:
Entirely different from Stuart Little but just as original is this story of Wilbur, the Pig, and his friends--Fern, a little girl of eight, and Charlotte, the spider, whose remarkable spinning astonished the countryside and saved his life. To write a nonsense story around this situation might not be too difficult, but it took an E. B. White to get beauty and wisdom into the story along with the humor. And only a real farmer could have pictured so convincingly the folk of the farmyard! The plot, the conversation, the characters, all defy description; no one can get any idea of the book without reading it himself. I read it first in galleys without any illustrations, and now that I have seen them it seems to me a tribute to both author and artist that I got from the story the same picture of Wilbur and his companions as Garth Williams gives in his drawings. They are exactly right.
So. There. I wonder what Bertha Mahony Miller, founder of the Horn Book and friend of ACM, still keeping an eagle eye on the company as its president, thought of the book.

3 comments:

Kay said...

My guess is that Bertha and Jennie agreed in their assessment of Charlotte's Web. Jennie doesn't seem to have strayed too far from Bertha in what she published during her editorial tenure.

ACM may have gotten the most publicity for her views, but it's good to know that Jennie (and probably Bertha) thought otherwise.

Strami said...

wow I didn't even know Annie Carroll Moore was Asian

Roger Sutton said...

Aw shaddup, ya racist sod.