Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 1, 2010

Sanctuaries and The Secret World Of Walter Anderson

For weekly writing assignments, I like giving my children’s literature students a choice between papers that are analytical or narrative-based. Last week, some wrote about literary strategies E.B. White used to assess whether he met his goal of “All I ever hoped to do was say how much I love the world.” They found ways I’d never thought of, including the rhythm between dialog and description, and the very inclusion of death as part of his affirmation of life in Charlotte’s Web.

Others wrote about childhood sanctuaries, mentioning a tent, swing set, rock pile, a cotton candy colored room, the library, a backyard fort (where the door was for keeping out a younger brother), camp, a beach, the end of a road, and a place where “’Down-by-the-river,’ like ‘kitchen’ or ‘sitting room’ or ‘dining room,’ became a noun to me, and it took a while to realize consciously that it was composed of four different words.”

A lot of nostalgia finds its way into a children’s literature class, but we also discover how writing can keep memories, with all their contradictions, alive. And rereading books can take us back to the readers we once were, while adding the layer of who we are now. And once in a while we find someone who thoroughly honors the notion of retreat that many of us left behind.

The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass and illustrated by E.B. Lewis (aka the other amazing E.B.) won this year’s NCTE Orbis Pictus (my students should recognize that reference!) Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children . The writing is graceful and clear from the first line: “There once was a man whose love of nature was as wide as the world.” We see Walter Anderson climbing trees or shoulder deep in water, raising his arms, to sketch birds or nests. He wears a hat to shade his eyes or hold art supplies or models, such as snakes or raccoons. Most of the book shows him working, surrounded by blue green seawater, on an island near his Mississippi Gulf home. An extensive afterward gives an overview of his life and displays some of his art. The picture book is a treat for the eyes and ears.

To read about more books for children that feature real people and events, please check the roundup at



  1. Thanks for featuring this book, Jeannine. I’d heard about it and was curious to learn more. Love hearing about your class, too!

  2. I love the E.B. White-inspired assignment idea! It sounds like the students really got a lot out of it.

  3. Love this:
    “All I ever hoped to do was say how much I love the world.”
    And also, congratulations on your starred review in today’s SLJ – I am so excited to read BORROWED NAMES!

  4. I’m so glad to hear about this book. And to hear about your interesting class–I’d love to sit in!

  5. Thanks, Jama!

  6. I never get tired of reading Charlotte’s Web! So much to sigh in admiration over.

  7. E. B. White: a genius and a good man. National treasure.
    And thanks for the excited re Borrowed Names, Kate!

  8. I really love picture book biographies, and this one has a quiet strength.
    Hope you’re moving forward to Chapter 18!

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