Melissa Sweet is a children’s author who doesn’t think children should read all the time.
“I think there are two things that are usually important,” Sweet said. “One is reading and one is taking advantages of the natural world outside and exploring. Both make us attentive, and give us a sense of discovery. And I think that if there’s anything important about childhood, it’s that — it’s the sense of discovery.”
Sweet’s book, Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White, is the first CLSC Young Readers selection of the summer and ties into the Week One theme, “The Life of the Written Word.” Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Dave Griffith will lead a discussion on Some Writer at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 27 in the Poetry Makerspace on the ground floor of the Colonnade.
Sweet lives and works in Maine, where E. B. White spent a lot of time with his farm and where a lot of his story ideas came from.
“One of the things that distinguish Maine is that it has incredible natural beauty,” Sweet said. “So we don’t have to go very far to have a walk in the woods or be by the ocean, be in the mountains.”
Sweet stressed the importance of cultivating a sense of discovery, which can be gained through reading and spending time outside during childhood.
“One of the things that surprised me most about E. B. White was, by his own admission, he was not a great reader,” Sweet said. “And I was not a great reader. But we both spent our childhood outside.”
Although Sweet found herself relating to White as she researched her book, she also thought she couldn’t live up to his command of craft.
“I could never match the beauty and grace, and eloquence and simplicity of White’s words, but maybe I didn’t have to,” she said.
Sweet instead sought permission to use White’s letters, poems and book excerpts in Some Writer, “so that young readers can hear his own voice way beyond the three children’s books of his that we love: Charlotte’s Web, Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little.”
Sweet said she became emotional during the process of working on the texts and illustrations of Some Writer.
“I love E. B. White’s adult writing. I love his integrity and sense of freedom. And I felt like he was a very generous writer,” she said. “He really gave us everything he had to give and I think that’s what makes his writing so memorable.”
Sweet found it challenging to emulate White’s ability to convey such emotional depth in his writing, which is why she instead leaned on putting White’s writings directly into her own book.
“I know very few people who haven’t cried at the end of Charlotte’s Web. And we’re crying over a fictional story about a spider. … That’s the power of words,” she said. “It’s no coincidence that that’s so many people’s favorite book of all time. And so, I think that’s (why) I felt a lot of weight on my shoulders, but it was an extraordinary opportunity.”
Sweet said she thought that being at Chautauqua, taking time to be outside, playing and exploring, is probably the best setting for kids to learn about White.
“I think E. B. White would have loved that they were spending time outside, exploring the arts and exploring his writings,” Sweet said. “His ideas and work just came right out of his life.”