Episode 56 – E. B. White and Lessons on Friendship

In this episode we discuss the great books that E. B. White wrote and the theme of friendship. We also discuss some wonderful picture books about friendship. And we finish with talking about Jesus who calls us His friends. 

Books Discussed in This Episode:


Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. This week, even though we’re past E. B. White’s birthday–his birthday was on July 14th–I wanted to go ahead and spend some time talking about his books. I think they are some of the ones we have loved since we were children and ones that we would enjoy sharing with our children as well, if we haven’t already. And so I wanted to spend this time talking about those and also talking about a great biography that was written about his life that you may want to share with your children. So E. B. White is the author of 20 books of prose and poetry, and he was awarded the 1970 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for his children’s books, Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web. This award is now given every three years to an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have, over a period of years, made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children. In 1970, he also published his third children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan. These three books have become staples in most of our libraries and in our children’s reading plan. We all know them and love them for the most part. You may not be aware that E. B. White was also a contributor to The New Yorker. He was also a great essayist. He has books of his essays and his contributions to the magazine, The New Yorker. He has a book that he co-wrote On Democracy by Jon Meacham and E. B. White. And he has quite a few other books as well for adults that you might enjoy reading. But today we want to talk about his children’s books. I want to focus on the three and they are Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan.

Charlotte’s Web, of course, is a wonderful story about a little girl who saves a runt pig in the litter. Her dad just wants to kill it because that’s what they do on a farm when they have a runt, and she raises him and then she finds out he’s going to be killed because he’s a prized pig. So she saves his life again. And of course, the point of the story is she helped save him. But also Charlotte, a spider, helps save him, and she writes messages in her web. It’s a story of friendship, of sacrifice, of love and loss in friendship, and grief. And so I think you can use this story to talk about so many important emotions and issues in life that we deal with, but mostly to also emphasize being a real friend for someone in advocating for them when necessary. I think it’s also a good one to talk about being clever and finding ways to problem solve. They face quite a few challenges in the story. Between all the animals in the barnyard, they find a way to help save Wilbur’s life. The only complaint I have about this book is that the people are pretty gullible–the adults in the story are pretty gullible. And so that part seems a little silly, but we wouldn’t have the story if they weren’t because they would have to respond to Charlotte’s web in order for it to be an effective way for them to save Wilbur’s life. But it does seem like a commentary or satire about how people believe what they read or hear in the news. And so it could even be that you want to talk about that with your child, especially as they’re getting older, and maybe as they start reading the newspaper or watching the news or looking at the different news articles on the internet, to know that they need to use wisdom and discernment to know what the truth is. So with E. B. White being a journalist, it’s kind of interesting that he writes a book that points out that people believe what they see in writing. But I love this story. My kids love this story. It’s a great book to read with, you know, middle elementary. It’s a chapter book, as you know. It’s a lower reading level, so younger children can enjoy it as soon as they’re ready to start reading chapter books. If you get the classic one, it is illustrated on the cover by Garth Williams, who is also the one who illustrated the traditional Laura Ingalls Wilder books of Little House on the Prairie. And also he illustrates the classic cover for Stuart Little.

Stuart Little, of course, is also about friendship and family and caring for each other and problem solving again because he goes on an adventure and has to get out of trouble and be safe. There’s bravery and all of those issues in this book. And so these are great books for teaching values and principles that we want to discuss with our children.

The Trumpet of the Swan is about a Swan who can’t trumpet like the other swans. His father gets him a musical instrument trumpet. So he can use that. And he’s trying to win the heart of his true love, who ignores him because he can’t trumpet. Even though he can read and write and do other things, he can’t trumpet. And so she ignores him. Then his father gets him a brass trumpet, and we see if he is able to win her heart. Now, these books are not in picture book form. They’re only in the chapter book form for children to enjoy. So these would not be, of course, for your very young children, but if you’re reading it aloud to them, I think even a first grader could enjoy these stories because they are adventurous and fun and clever. And I think it would be something that you could read aloud to them and maybe read a chapter each night.

There’s a great biography written about E. B. White By Melissa Sweet. Melissa Sweet is an illustrator. And in this case, she’s the author and of the book. It’s called Some Writer. She’s illustrated quite a few books and she’s very well-known for her biographies that she’s written. And this one is very special. She uses collages of different pictures and different documents that she has found. This is really kind of a special keepsake type book. There are quotes from him in the book. One quote from E. B. White says, “I fell in love with the sound of an early typewriter and I have been stuck with it ever since.” And it says, “Elwin Brooks White loved words as a child. He chased them through dictionary pages and crafted them into poems for St. Nicholas Magazine. When he was a young man, words led him to writing jobs at big city newspapers and The New Yorker. And when his own stories came calling E. B. White spun his words into classics, such as Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, and readers have been chasing his words ever since.” So that’s a little bit about this book. And then, like I said, there are montages and collages throughout the book. There’s a family tree, a picture of his family, and so it gives a great look into E. B. White’s life from his early life through his career. And the illustrations are just wonderful. It’s like I said, it’s really a keepsake book that you will enjoy sharing with your children and having on your bookshelf for years and years to come.

One of the books that E. B. White is famous for is a rewrite of The Elements of Style. And I don’t know if you’ve read this book, but I’ve used it before in classes. And it’s almost a funny look at grammar. It’s written by William Strunk Jr. And E. B. White. It was used for years, The Elements of Style, for writing and has these rules for how to write well for mostly writing essays. It only has a few rules in it. There are eight elementary rules that you follow for a good writing style, but it’s got some humor in it. And it is also boring in other places, but that’s one you may be familiar with. In the biography, she refers to that, and she shows all the different types of writing he did and the kind of life he lived. It’s just a really great book. Lots of visuals in it to look at and to enjoy. Melissa Sweet’s illustrations are clever and cute and colorful and just really interesting. And she was totally in love with the idea of writing this book and was very motivated for it. And you can sure see that in the book itself. There’s a video on YouTube where she’s talking about this book, and she said she wanted it to be a picture book, but there was so much information, she couldn’t do that alone. So it’s written like a picture book, but it’s about 80 pages long. And so it’s a really long picture book is what it turns into, but it’s a great biography.

One of the main themes that we come across in books like Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little is the idea of love and friendship. And so I also wanted to spend some time talking about books about friendship because one of the important things we teach our children is how to be a true friend to other people and to be a trustworthy and good friend. And so there’s a couple special books I’d like to share with you. One is ridiculous and silly, but you could almost pick up any of his books. This writer, Mo Willems, writes very funny, silly books that kids love. And I love his whole series of Elephant and Piggie, and he has one Can I Play Too where a snake wants to play catch with them. And they problem solve to help the snake be a part of their friendship and their fun that they’re having together. And so this book very silly and a lot of fun. And so that’s one that I would recommend too. It’s about friendship, problem solving and making the best of a situation so that everyone can be included.

And then another really special book is called Four Feet, Two Sandals. And it is by Karen Lynn Williams and illustrated by Khadra Muhammad. And this is about two girls in a refugee camp. They’re from Afghanistan. And they have come to this refugee camp and are hoping to come to America, but they’re at the camp. They don’t have any shoes. They get a delivery. Everybody’s trying to grab what they need. And one girl gets one sandal, and the other girl gets the other sandal. And then they become friends and they share the sandals. So it’s four feet, two sandals. They’re 10-year-old girls, and they become great friends and learn to share. And people tease them because they each have one shoe. And what good is one shoe, but they learn to cooperate and help each other out so that they can help protect each other’s feet and help each other be blessed by having the shoes, at least every other day. And some days they each wear one shoe, but most of the time they just take turns wearing the two shoes. And then at the end, one of the girls and her mom get to go to the United States. She gives the shoes to the girl who can’t go yet. And the little girl says, no, I want you to keep one to remember. And so it’s a really beautiful story of friendship and sacrifice and caring for one another. I do recommend this book. It’s really beautiful. And it also will help our children to see what life is like in a refugee camp. I think it’s so important that we share with them that we are so blessed, and many people struggle and don’t have the things that we have and take for granted. And so we need to be really thankful for what we have and how much we are blessed. And to also pray for those who have been sent from their countries and are trying to find a way of life where they can survive and move on when their country has been so affected by war or whatever has happened in their particular country. And so I think it’s an important lesson to teach children. You know, some children have never left their own city or their own state, and so they don’t have a worldview that understands what is out there and what many children their own age are going through. So I think this is a great book for sharing that with our children and in a way that is not overly emotional, not a way that is too traumatic, but helps open their eyes to the blessings we have and to not take those for granted and what it would be like if you lost everything and wound up in a refugee camp. Would you have the same kind of love, friendship, and attitude that these young women have? So I think it’s a beautiful book and would be great to share with your children.

And one book I’ve shared before that I love is We Don’t Eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins. He’s the author and illustrator. And this is about a dinosaur that goes to school. And she’s just acting like a regular T-Rex and eats her friends. The teacher says, “We don’t eat our classmates.” And so she learns what it’s like to be a friend and to not eat her classmates.

And the last book I want to share about friendship is called Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. And this book is just wonderful. It uses irony and will really get your children thinking about turning enemies into friends. You could use the scriptures from Romans about praying for those who persecute you, for loving those who don’t love you, and doing unto others, from Matthew, as you would have them do unto you. This is a fantastic book for opening up conversations. And this one, honestly, you could read it from kindergarten up through middle school. It’s just that good. I highly recommend this book. I think it is a wonderful, wonderful book.

So for our devotion today, we’re going to share from Hope for Each Day by Billy Graham. This is the June 5th devotional, “What a Friend,” Psalm 46:1 in the ICB says, “God is our protection and our strength. He always helps in times of trouble.” “Jesus’ disciples once tried to stop children from coming close to Jesus, but he said, let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them because the kingdom of God belongs to people who are like these little children. That’s Luke 18:16. Then he held and blessed the children. Don’t you think all those children found a new friend that day through the years. Many people have come to know Jesus as their savior and their friend, sometimes in the midst of difficult circumstances. ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ a hymn that has been a favorite for nearly 200 years came out of the experience of a young man whose bride drowned on the night before their wedding in his sadness. He turned to Jesus and found a friend, peace, and comfort. He wrote about how Jesus can bear all our sins and griefs, and that he’ll take and shield us in his arms. Sometimes we face disappointment and sadness, yet even sorrows turn to blessings when they make us discover that Jesus truly is our faithful friend.”

And I wanted to end with that because we need to not only teach our children how to be a friend and to have good friends and make sure they’re choosing the right kind of friends, but also to understand that God calls us his friends. And to understand that he is our friend. And even in the most difficult times, we’re never alone. He is our friend and walks with us through every sorrow and every struggle. And so to help our children know that even in the darkest time, they can turn to him, and he is there is so important. And to let them know that he calls us his friend.

I will include a page of Bible verses that we can work on with our kids about friendship and about God being our friend. Those will be in the show notes.

There are so many different topics we can cover when we’re talking about friendship. So as you’re reading through these different books together and doing your Bible studies together, let the Holy Spirit just open up what he wants us to impart to our kids–what he wants us to help them understand about being trustworthy, being kind, being faithful, when they have an attitude that’s not right, to be forgiving, and to not be a bully, but to be gentle and meek with other people. We can talk about the fruit of the spirit coming through us in our lives, being evident in our lives. As we are being in relationships with other people, we can talk about the “one anothers” and how God wants us to treat each other. Our whole lives are centered on relationships–relationship with God and relationship with each other. The whole message of the Bible is about our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. And so it is so important that we spend time really helping our children grasp the importance of building strong and good relationships. And that we choose wisely when we choose our friends. Proverbs warns us that bad friends corrupt us, and that we will follow the bad examples of our friends. And so we need to choose wisely and help our children to choose wisely. We want to take those opportunities to teach our children how to be good friends and how to find good friends. Our whole lives are encompassed in the relationships we build. The gospel message is all about relationship as well with God. And so we need to help our children understand the importance of relationship. God did not call us to be hermits. He called us to be in fellowship with each other and him.

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions, as we disciple our children and help them to follow Christ with their whole hearts, if you would like to join my mailing list and get notifications when I post a new blog post or a new podcast, you can sign up on my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com. I would love to have you join my mailing list. I promise not to overwhelm your inbox, but I do hope to bless you. And when you sign up, you also have access to some free items that only people on my mailing list have access to. Be sure to share this podcast with your friends, especially if they’re new parents and are wanting to disciple their children and help them to know more about what it means to live the Christian life. We share a lot of books about discipleship and about parenting and great fun picture books to share with our children. So share this podcast with your friends and help our ministry to grow. And we would greatly appreciate that. And hopefully your friends will appreciate that as well.

Scriptures about friendship:

Eccl. 4:9-10

Prov. 12:26

Prov. 17:9

Prov. 17:17

Prov. 18:24

Prov. 22:24-25

Prov. 27:5-6

Prov. 27:9

Prov. 27:17

Luke 6:31

John 15:12-13

Rom. 12:10

1 Peter 4:8-10

Col. 3:12-14

1 Thess. 5:11

1 Cor. 15:33

God calls us His friends:

John 15:13-15

Your Host:

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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