Nobody’s surprised about this one. The author for the second highest number of points in Betsy Bird’s poll of the Top 100 Chapter Books of All Time is E. B. White.
What might be surprising is that while J. K. Rowling, the #1 author, got there with votes on all seven of her books, E. B. White pulled off second place with votes on only two of his books.
Charlotte’s Web was Chapter Book #1, with 349 points.
And The Trumpet of the Swan had two people vote for it with a 2nd place and a 4th place ranking, for a total of 16 points.
I was surprised that Stuart Little got no points at all.
Now, I personally didn’t vote for Charlotte’s Web, but I might have if I’d thought for a moment it wouldn’t win. I have to admit the book is practically perfect. I have wonderful memories of Charlotte’s Web, since it was my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Kita, who introduced the book to me when she read it to our class after lunch. I remember being completely enthralled.
I was never enamored with the other two books, though my husband ended up making me fond of them. That Stuart Little was a mouse, I always found completely creepy. A small human would have been interesting. But a mouse? The open ending didn’t help for me, either.
Then there was The Trumpet of the Swan. I didn’t encounter that one until I was an adult. It’s a good story, but, come on, a trumpet? Really? I know enough about brass instruments to know that you really do need lips to play one. Playing a trumpet with a beak? I’m sorry, but my imagination doesn’t stretch that far.
Even though you’d think that would bother him, my ex-husband, a tuba player, had loved all three books since he was a boy. He read all three to our sons, and I get warm feelings just remembering that. He and our older son were working together on a sequel to Stuart Little called Margalo.
Then there was the Hanna Barbara film of Charlotte’s Web. My son watched that over and over and over, as only a preschooler can. And yet — I did not hate it, even after hearing it uncountably many times. Most of the dialogue was straight from the book, and the fact is, that’s good dialogue.
Come to think of it, Charlotte’s Web, though completely brilliant, is unconventional, like the other books. Perhaps that’s what blocked it from a Newbery Medal in the end. It starts out as a realistic book and then switches into fantasy with talking animals, though never going all the way there, staying firmly grounded in reality.
I recently read Michael Sims’ brilliant book, The Story of Charlotte’s Web. It turns out that E. B. White studied spiders for a full year before writing the book. His impeccable research is reflected in the book. These animals — and that immortal spider — are real and grounded in reality.