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Stuart Little vs. The New York Public Library

This week’s New Yorker features an article by Jill Lepore about a long and public spat between E.B White and Anne Carroll Moore, the Superintendent of Work with Children at the New York Public Library.

Moore held enormous influence over children’s literature in American in the first half of the 20th century “ and with good reason. As Lepore writes: “In 1895, when she was twenty-four, she moved to New York, where she more or less invented the children’s library.” Moore designed children’s reading rooms filled with pansies and pint-sized chairs, invented “story hour,” and replaced signs of “Silence!” with framed prints by children’s book illustrators.

Moore cultivated writers, Lepore notes, and was always eager to take credit for the next superstar of children’s lit. In 1938 she had her sights set on E.B. White “ who told her he had started a children’s book “but was finding it difficult.”

Moore pursued the correspondence. In early 1939, she pressed upon White no fewer than five letters. She sent him copies of her reviews. She gave him writing tips: Let it flow, without criticizing it too close to its creation. She inquired after his family, asking, more than once, after his child. She was very, very keen to make the acquaintance of his wife: I’d like to include Mrs. E. B. White in this letter for two reasons. The first that she is the mother of the boy, or is it a girl? And second because she reviews children’s books for The New Yorker or some other magazine. She begged him to get back to his children’s book. Can’t you achieve a temperature, without getting sick, and finish it off? She was attempting, as she often did, not only to cultivate this author but to claim him.

The book White was trying to write was Stuart Little. It was finally published in 1945 and Moore hated it. She banned it from the New York Public Library, her influence shut it out of the Newbery Medal, and she wrote a scathing letter to the Whites saying the book must have been written by “a sick mind.”

Lepore’s article paints Moore in an uncomfortable light. She opened library doors for children, yet she had a narrow view of what children’s literature is. Did she really “nurture” writers? Or was she a power-hungry stalker?

Read the article here. Also, be sure to check out Lepore’s blog about researching the Stuart Little battle and an audio conversation between Lepore and Roger Agnell, E.B. White’s grandson and a longtime editor at The New Yorker.