Stuart Little by E.B. White
(Harper & Row, 1945, 131 pages)
Stuart Little is a funny combination of the childlike and the adult. A child born to human parents living in New York, Stuart is “not much bigger than a mouse,” and in fact looks “very much like a mouse in every way.” His small size means that he experiences many of the frustrations that children have to put up with, always longing for the day that they will be “big.” Also, Stuart’s odd position of being, let’s say “mouse-like,” in a family of humans surely resonates with children who feel out of place for one reason or another. Yet Stuart also has the maturity and perspective of an adult. He traverses New York streets by himself (not without mishap of course!) and eventually sets out on his own, heading north in search of his bird-friend Margalo. On this trip in his miniature car, he finds himself stopping along the way to act as substitute teacher (giving the children an impromptu lesson the nature of law) and to court a girl of his own size (with disastrous results).
Children who read Stuart Little (or have it read to them) will encounter a character who faces challenges that they can identify with. At the same time, Stuart provides children with a window into what it might look like to be an adult, to be able to set off on their own and do the things that they aren’t yet “big enough” to do. Of course, it works the other way as well – adults will be reminded of the challenges and hopes that make up the life of a child. Stuart reminds those of us who are “big” now that life should never lose the adventurous quality that comes so much more naturally to children.
One of my favorite aspects of E. B. White’s children’s books is the way that he describes the changing of the seasons, allowing turns in the weather to reflect turning points in the story. It is also fascinating to see White’s depictions of the streets and parks of New York in the mid-1940s from the perspective of a mouse – sorry, from a mouse-like perspective. As I read this to my daughter, she got caught up in the suspense as the Little’s family cat Snowbell plotted against Stuart. She also got excited hearing the account of Stuart captaining of the toy sailboat in the race at the park. All told, this is a story best enjoyed by children and adults together.