I first experienced “Charlotte’s Web” with the rest of my sixth-grade class. One of the teachers, Mrs. Streeter (I can’t remember her first name since I never used it), introduced me and everyone else to Charlotte, Wilbur, Templeton, and the rest of the farmyard animals through daily readings around recess time.
I remember enjoying it a great deal.
“Charlotte’s Web” is the third step on O’Fallon Public Library’s book spine stairs. Thank you for joining me as we “climb the stairs” together — discussing the classics honored by inclusion on the library’s staircase.
Summary (major spoilers included):
Fern Arable doesn’t want her father to kill the runt of the litter. He allows her to keep the pig as a pet, and she names him Wilbur. When Wilbur grows larger, she takes him to her uncle’s, Homer Zuckerman, farm. Wilbur’s only friend in this new place is Charlotte, a spider.
After Wilbur discovers he is destined for the chopping block, Charlotte promises to come up with a plan to save his life.
Her final plan is a stroke of genius.
She decides to make Wilbur famous by writing about him on her web. “Some pig!” Charlotte’s web proclaims and people come from miles around to admire both the pig and the web.
Eventually, Fern enters Wilbur in the county fair and though he doesn’t win, he is given a special award by the judges. After the ceremony and the hubbub around him, Charlotte understands that Wilbur will be safe for the rest of his natural life and her promise to him is fulfilled.
In a heartbreaking twist, Charlotte’s own lifespan is ending and she doesn’t return from the fair with Wilbur. Instead, she sends her egg-sac home with him.
In the spring, hundreds of Charlotte’s children hatch but only three decide to remain with Wilbur on the farm. A few of Charlotte’s descendants remain with him, ever after.
“Charlotte’s Web” has been a fairly popular book since its publication in 1952. It is in the top one hundred best-selling hardback books of all time.
E.B. White, the author, was honored in 1970 by receiving the Children’s Literature Legacy Award for “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” which he also wrote. (I haven’t read “Stuart Little” but I did watch the movie based off of the book years ago with my daughter. I recall the voice actor for the titular character was performed by Michael J. Fox.)
Multiple films have been made of “Charlotte’s Web.” It has even been made into a video game!
In the time since the book’s publication, E.B. White has been asked why he wrote it. His response was, “I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze”.
Whatever his motivations, most of the readers who have enjoyed “Charlotte’s Web” over the years agree that it is beloved by both adults and children.
Despite the seriousness of the themes which include death, coming-of-age, and change, E.B. White managed to write it in a way that was approachable for readers of all ages. Perhaps this accounts for the timelessness of the book.
Eudora Welty, a book reviewer for the New York Times, wrote in 1952 about “Charlotte’s Web”: “What the book is about is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.”
I completely agree — magical.
Next month’s step is “Grapes of Wrath.” Until then, happy reading! — Heidi W.