This week I decided to read Charlotte’s Web. I remembered this book well, but even more I remembered the cartoon of it. I watched it again and again, just as I read the book again. However, I remembered very little of the story, just that there was a pig named Wilbur, a spider named Charlotte and Charlotte wrote words in her web and that it was a very sad book at the end.
Adriana Trigiani found Charlotte’s Web beautiful enough to list in her top ten.
I will admit, that even at 37, I teared up at the end of Charlotte’s Web. This could be a byproduct of hormones, or stress, or tiredness, but I don’t think so. If I had burst into tears, maybe it’d be one of those. Instead I just felt sad a little bit.
E.B. Stuart is the author of Stuart Little, another children’s classic. He also wrote The Trumpet of the Swan. For all three of these books (Charlotte’s Web too) he won awards for. I can see why. Charlotte’s Web is a perfect book for elementary school children, even today when it might seem “old fashioned”.
It has talking animals, children are fascinated with the realm of imagination. Children (or at least I did, and it seems when my daughter is playing, she is too) are convinced that just beyond their perception things are happening. Amelia spent 3 hours on St. Patrick’s Day with a good friend, hunting leprechauns. The friend’s older brothers helped leave leprechaun evidence around the house. Their mom said “I never thought they’d spend that much time doing it!”. Her friend is 8, the same age as the little girl who rescues Wilbur from death as the runt of the litter.
There is an educational component that is skillfully hidden in the story. Charlotte (the spider) tells Wilbur the names of the different parts of her legs and about her spinnaret and how she weaves her web. Later in the story, her children explain how the spiders scatter so that they’re not all in the same area fighting over food. The goose talks about how she hatches her eggs. Wilbur, of course, shows the habits a pig would have. The seasons are discussed. Charlotte uses bigger words such as salutations and magnum opus
“Plaything? I should say not. It is my egg sac, my magnum opus”.
And E.B. Stuart then uses Wilbur to question what the word means so that a child can get the meaning without feeling condescended to by the author.
“I don’t know what a magnum opus is” said Wilbur.
“That’s Latin. It means great work. This egg sac is my great work. The finest thing I have ever made”.
There are countless other examples from almost everything Charlotte says.
Charlotte’s Web also allows children to experience death in a safe manner. And in a not too obvious way. Children can be turned off if something is talking down to them. E.B. White weaves these lessons into a compelling, interesting tale. His story tells the natural cycle of life. It shows how things can change, not just with the seasons but with the years.
This story transcends gender and possibly ethnic origin (not being anything other than a mutt of Caucasian background, I can’t guarantee it). There is very little “girl” or “boy” components to this story. And today, with society mostly removed from the small family farm society that existed just a few decades ago, it makes it a bit more universal. I believe that’s because, much like Little House on the Prairie or other texts like that, it’s more a historical lesson now than a contemporary tale. But Charlotte’s Web is definitely contemporary in emotions and feelings.
I honestly can’t wait to read this story to Amelia.