Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book Review: Stuart Little By E.B. White

Rereading favorite childhood books as an adult is a funny thing. How can they ever live up to our expectations and memories? But at the same time, if I hadn't reread Stuart Little, I had forgotten most of the stories and would never have remembered the care and thoughtfulness that went into them. E. B. White of course has such as feel for children. He doesn't talk down to them, uses some hard vocabulary words, and he also never explains things in his books. He presents the world in his books as it is and doesn't ever defend how a family's second son could "look very much like a mouse." Yet his stories are reassuring in their consistency and his self-assured tone. This is certainly not to say there aren't grave dangers and scary situations, but children of course need to be exposed to scary things in order to understand that being scared is okay.

The story that really had stuck with me, and that I remembered before rereading, is the one about Stuart Little piloting a sailboat across a pond in Central Park. It's funny that I didn't remember about the canoe at all - even though it's on the cover (and I like canoeing.) But it came back to me the minute I saw Garth William's stunning illustrations of the chapter (is there a better illustrator of children's books? I think not.) I had forgotten all about Margalo, the bird that came to live with them, and while some details - like the little car, and the little girl that he meets - did jog my memory of reading it as a child, other parts - Stuart being a substitute teacher, and ending up on a garbage barge in the East River - seemed completely new to me although they couldn't possibly be. I was quite surprised by the ending. I had erroneously assumed he'd find his friend the bird and return home. Instead, he drives North, continuing to look for her. It implies more fun adventures to come which is certainly thrilling, but it's not the happy, secure ending I had expected. (I'm sure the movie changed that! I really don't want to see it.) Also how many of Stuart's adventures go astray, off-kilter, and sometimes end up with him in quite a bit of danger, but he always gets out okay can be reassuring to children that when they end up in a predicament, even if it doesn't end as they'd have hoped/planned, it still likely will end okay.

Naturally as a child, I saw no Big Messages in these fun stories. I just imagined how much fun it would be to sleep in a bed made from a cigarette box and clothespins, and how funny it was that Stuart had to bang on the handle of the bathroom sink with a mallet to brush his teeth in the morning.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.


Julie P. said...

Believe it or not, I've never read Stuart Little! I probably shouldn't admit that!

Rebecca Chapman said...

I didn't read Stuart Little as a child either, sounds very sweet though