For four years, the Brown County Library and Brown County Literacy Coalition have invited the community to read and discuss a book together.

This year’s Brown County Reads program encourages the community to read two.

“Charlotte’s Web” and “The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic” are available for borrowing at the library.

The community is invited to a discussion with Michael Sims, the author of “The Story of Charlotte’s Web,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 31 at the library.

Story continues below gallery

Sims will also visit Sprunica Elementary School during the day March 31.

Before those events, the library will host a discussion of “Charlotte’s Web,” followed by a showing of the animated movie, at 2 and 6 p.m. Monday, March 21, during spring break.

All events are free.

Past Brown County Reads featured books aimed at teens and adults. This year, the literacy coalition wanted to find a book for young readers.

Literacy coalition board member Bob Gustin called “Charlotte’s Web” an “all-age book.”

“I think it’s a perfectly fine book for adults as well. The story of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and the lessons contained in there are stories and lessons which reflect on today’s life for everybody, not just for kids,” he said.

“Charlotte’s Web” is a perennial favorite and is one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, said library Director Stori Snyder.

“The Story of Charlotte’s Web” was named a notable nonfiction book by the Washington Post in 2011. It also received critical praise from the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal.

“It tells some of E. B. White’s background and draws some parallels between real life and the fictional story,” Gustin said.

“I’m really excited about him coming. I hope we can get a lot of people here because he’s kind of a big deal,” Snyder said.

Gustin suggests reading Sims’ book first before re-reading “Charlotte’s Web,” as he did.

“Having the background from Sims’ book when I tackled a fresh look at ‘Charlotte’s Web’ was kind of eye-opening in some ways,” he said.

“I think it’s a good way to do it, because it gives you a depth of understanding of this children’s classic that is kind of surprising.”

Ask the author

Michael Sims, author of “The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E. B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic” did an interview over email with the Brown County Democrat.

Q: What inspired you to write about E.B. White and the story behind “Charlotte’s Web”?

A: Because I’ve written so much about the many ways that the human imagination has responded to nature, I had the idea that I would write a little book in which I looked at the origins of several popular animal characters. Because it takes time to write a book and you need to be really interested in the topic, I chose five nature-inspired books or series that I myself loved: “Charlotte’s Web,” by E.B. White, “Rabbit Hill,” by Robert Lawson, “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame, “The Peter Rabbit” books, by Beatrix Potter and “The Freddy the Pig” books, by Walter Brooks.

And I started out with E.B. White and found myself so fascinated and entertained by his quirky character and personality — and found myself so caught up in the new kind of writing (for me) of biography and history — that I couldn’t stop. I wrote perhaps eight drafts just of the proposal and sample chapter, and my wonderful agent in New York and I went over each one until it got gradually better and better.

Q: How long did it take?

A: From beginning the first draft of the first proposal through actually finishing the final draft and getting it into production, I would say four or five years. In between that time I wrote two other nonfiction books, including the companion volume for a National Geographic Channel TV series, and edited anthologies of Victorian fiction (my sideline) — while I kept trying to improve the E. B. White book idea.

Q: Did you know Mr. White?

A: No, alas, I never had the pleasure of meeting him. But he was very shy. He never once did a promotional event or interview to promote any of his books, for example. He loved his farm and his animals and his family and friends. He might have found my curiosity about his life intrusive.

Q: What research went into this book?

A: Lots of different kinds. It was just outrageous fun. I went to Cornell University and sat in their archives, with their wonderful helpful librarians, and went through White’s personal papers. He was a Cornell alum. And there in dusty pencil drafts from the late 1940s and early 1950s, I found the mother lode. I found where White would be making notes from scientific texts about the natural history of spiders, and he would simply skip down the page and go straight into using the material in dialogue between Charlotte and Wilbur. I was witnessing the very moment of creative inspiration, fossilized in amber.

Q: What was one of the most surprising facts you learned about Mr. White while writing this book?

A: I think that he was so shy that he would write love letters to his wife, the legendary New Yorker editor Katharine White, in the voice of their Scottish terrier Daisy, even to talk about how excited he was that Katharine was pregnant.

Q: What do you hope people take away from your book?

A: Well, first, I think, entertainment, in the sense of a rousing fun story of a nature-loving child in the early 20th century, and his coming of age, and his devotion to his family, and his romance with Katharine. And second, a vision of how strangely and beautifully we respond to nature, and how it can spark our imagination and flower into something strange and beautiful that speaks to children and adults all over the world.

— Suzannah Couch, Brown County Democrat

Author photo
Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.