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Charlotte's Web
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Charlotte's Web > Charlotte's Web (and a few others!)

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Susan (susanopl) | 472 comments Mod
People who know me know that I love Charlotte's Web. For me, this love affair has been going on since I was about 8 years old. It’s the delightful story of a little girl named Fern and her pig named Wilbur, whose life is saved by Charlotte the spider when she writes descriptive words about Wilbur in her web.

My first encounter with Wilbur happened when I was in elementary school. I can still picture my classmates sitting on the floor around me as Miss Compton-Smith, a proper British librarian with large-framed round glasses read the book to us. I have never forgotten the end of the first chapter, when Fern’s teacher asks her, “What is the capital of Pennsylvania?” and Fern, enamored with her new piglet, dreamily replies, “Wilbur.” What little girl wouldn’t love to have her own little piglet to push around in a doll stroller? I wanted a pet of my own and wished I could be Fern.

My next encounter with Wilbur and Charlotte happened over twenty years later, when a television show philosophized about the book. It made me want to read the book again, which I did. I discovered I still loved it. I later had the special privilege of reading the book with my own two sons, snuggled under the covers at bedtime, rooting for Wilbur and laughing at the antics of Templeton the rat.

In 2006, a wonderful live-action movie of Charlotte’s Web was released. I went to see it with my sons and my dear friend, Darlene, and her two girls. We all thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but its true impact came at the end. After Charlotte dies, Wilbur talks about his good friend, Charlotte, and says that “It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” Our children got up and walked out of the theatre, but Darlene and I looked at each other and discovered that we were both crying. I gave my true friend a hug.
Charlotte’s Web isn’t just for kids. It’s for anyone who has ever had a really good friend. If you haven’t read it for a while, enjoy it again, with or without a child. Go back to that special barn, which E.B. White so lovingly described as “the best place to be …. (that) warm delicious cellar, with the garrulous geese, the changing seasons, the heat of the sun, the passage of swallows, the nearness of rats, the sameness of sheep, the love of spiders, the smell of manure, and the glory of everything.”

I have a few other recommendations related to the novel:
Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White by Melissa Sweet. This is an autobiography of White written for younger readers, but his fans of all ages will enjoy the text, gorgeous collages, watercolour paintings, and White's letters and quotations. It includes this lovely confession by White (which probably explains why I love him so much): When he recorded the audiobook for Charlotte's Web, "it took him seventeen takes to get through 'Last Day,' the chapter in which Charlotte dies. 'It's ridiculous,' he told the producer, 'a grown man reading a book that he wrote, and being unable to read it aloud because of tears.'"

Of course I then had to listen to the audio version of Charlotte’s Web. What an absolute delight to hear E.B. White read his wonderful classic. I love his east coast accent and the patient way he reads the book. His love for the characters, the farm, and the changing of the seasons shines through. The language is so simple and perfect - he never talked down to children. The conversations between Charlotte and Wilbur set such a good example of how friends should talk to one another and respect one another. And I love the growly voice of Templeton the Rat, who likes to eat food that has been "seasoned by the passage of time and the heat of the day." This book, and this recording, are a "tremendous thing." The afterword, read by George Plimpton is a real bonus.

Finally, I recently read Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children's Literature as an Adult. I was immediately endeared to Bruce Handy's description of Charlotte's Web. He describes it as a "beautifully crafted work - which is to say it is a work of truly first-rank literature." He asks, "Do wiser, funnier, more pleasurable books exist? If so, they're few and far between, no matter how old or young their intended audience." I agree wholeheartedly. Charlotte’s Web is one of my lifelong treasured books.


message 2: by whytania (new)

whytania | 5 comments Mod
Susan, I love Charlotte's Web! When I was in Grade 1, I was banished to the cloakroom for most of the year - for being too chatty and for doing other people's seat work so that there would be more time for fun. Being alone in the cloak room had an unexpected benefit however because my teacher had a good selection of reading materials in there and I became an accomplished reader over the course of the year. My favourite book was Charlotte's Web and when Grade 1 ended Mrs. Selmer gifted her copy to me - probably because I had worn it out from re-reading. I still have it and it remains on my list of best books ever, because of the story, but also because of the pleasure I discovered in reading!


message 3: by Maureen (new)

Maureen B. | 212 comments Susan, I so enjoyed reading about your love for Charlotte's Web. My fondness for Charlotte developed from my admiration for her author. My exposure to literature as a child was pretty limited but I was so proud when I made it to university that when we were assigned The Elements of Style, I read it cover to cover (such a nerd! lol) and fell in love with White's style. From there, I started reading his essays and an autobiography (I think it was "One Man's Meat"). His writing was so elegant, lucid, concise. The pacing so leisurely and calm. It was his writing that led me to Charlotte's Web and children's books, something I'm very grateful for. To this day, I am still so fond of Charlotte (although probably now I think The Wind in the Willows is probably my 'most' favourite :-))


Susan (susanopl) | 472 comments Mod
Maureen wrote: "Susan, I so enjoyed reading about your love for Charlotte's Web. My fondness for Charlotte developed from my admiration for her author. My exposure to literature as a child was pretty limited but I..."
Thanks for sharing this, Maureen. I love to talk to others who love Charlotte's Web. I think you'd enjoy Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White as much as I did because White's personality really shines through in the book. I love his essays too, in particular the one called "Death of a Pig." He describes a pig that he kept on his own farm - he became very attached to it and was very upset when it died. I'm sure that pig was the inspiration for Wilbur.


Susan (susanopl) | 472 comments Mod
Tania wrote: "Susan, I love Charlotte's Web! When I was in Grade 1, I was banished to the cloakroom for most of the year - for being too chatty and for doing other people's seat work so that there would be more ..."
What a treasure that copy of Charlotte's Web must be, Tania! Even though Mrs. Selmer banished you to the cloak room, she must have been a special teacher.


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