A Kaleidoscope of White

Melissa Sweet’s new E.B. White biography is a (literally) colorful portrait of Maine’s most beloved writer.

In an illustrated biography ostensibly meant for grade-schoolers, Maine author and illustrator Melissa Sweet has rendered Maine’s literary favorite son as vividly as any adult tome. Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; hardcover, 176 pages; $18.99) goes cradle to grave with the essayist and children’s author known to family and friends as Andy. But Some Writer! is more than just thorough — it’s also great fun, pairing White’s subtle wit with a mile-wide whimsical streak of Sweet’s own.

Nearly every page is a mash-up of text, old photos, pages from journals, bright colored-pencil drawings, and all manner of zany, impeccably curated found objects — from Moxie bottle caps to old stamps to torn book pages to mouldering maple leaves superimposed with type. It’s a little erudite, a little high design, a little high camp — like a scrapbook pulled off the set of a Wes Anderson movie.

The book gives special attention to White’s children’s books: Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. But Sweet has just as much fun with a chapter on The Elements of Style, the prescriptive reference book White famously revised in 1959, beloved by writing wonks and editors. If anyone could pull that off, it’s Sweet, who nabbed a 2015 Caldecott Honor for illustrating a children’s bio of Peter Mark Roget — as in, the thesaurus guy.

White’s love of Maine — his Brooklin farm in particular — is stressed throughout. Fittingly, Sweet launches her national book tour this month with a swing through six Maine island communities, part of the non-profit Island Readers & Writers’ visiting authors program. The mini-tour starts on North Haven and ends on Mount Desert, the island White once gazed upon from outside his backyard writing shed.

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Brian Kevin

Brian Kevin is Down East's managing editor.

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