Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

Charlotte's Web is associated with two very important firsts in my life. It's the first novel I ever heard read out loud, and it's the first book a teacher ever read to a class I was in. We nine year olds were spellbound. We hated being sick and missing the next installment. I'm sure we all rushed in after lunch desperate to listen to the next chapter. I've loved Charlotte, Wilbur, Fern, and the rest of the characters, (including Templeton) ever since. 

This time, I returned to my first experience and listened to it read out loud (by the author himself.) I am, once again, awestruck by how profoundly timeless this story is. 

Charlotte's Web, is a story of growing up. Fern grows up and stops spending so much time in the barn. Charlotte grows old, dies, and Wilbur learns to grieve as he looks after her children, some of whom stay with him year after year. 

It's a story friendship and acceptance. Even though Wilbur worries that "Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming bloodthirsty - everything I don't like," eventually he comes to accept and care deeply for her. I wish I had a Dr Dorian when my boys were younger. He reassures Mrs Arable saying, "Let Fern associate with her friends in the barn if she wants to. I would say, offhand, that spiders and pigs were fully as interesting as Henry Fussy. Yet I predict that the day will come when even Henry will drop some chance remark that catches Fern's attention. It's amazing how children change from year to year."  I love Fern's mother's comments that, "Avery is always fine. Of course, he gets into poison ivy and gets stung by wasps and bees and brings frogs and snakes home and breaks everything he lays his hand on. He's fine" 

They are all fine, just as they are. 

It reminds us of the power of the labels we are given. With each word Charlotte provides for him, Wilbur strives to become: first some pig, then terrific, next radiant, and finally, humble. 

I also love how much information readers learn about spiders as they read this book. Not only do we learn that spiders have eight hairy legs, but that "each leg has seven sections - the coxa, the trochanter, the femur, the patella, the tibia, the metatarsus, and the tarsus." 

Across the years I've read Charlotte's Web a couple of times, and remain enchanted by it: by the exquisiteness of the prose, by the elegance of a tale well told, by the rich and multiple layers of meaning that I've come to find with each new reading. This telling, I was struck by this all over again, but I've come to especially appreciate White's humor and his gentle pokes at how foolish we humans are in so many ways, and especially, how easily we can be manipulated

Trust me, Wilbur. People are very gullible. They'll believe anything they see in print. 

If I can fool a bug, thought Charlotte, "I can surely fool a man. People are not as smart at bugs."

"What do people catch in the Queensborough Bridge - bugs?" asked Wilbur.
"No," said Charlotte. 'They don't catch anything. They just keep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there is something better on the other side. If they'd hang head-down at the top of the thing and wait quietly, maybe something good would come along. But no - with men it's rush, rush, rush, every minute."

I used to assume that Charlotte's Web was only appropriate for younger children. Now I'm contemplating how I'm going to sell it to all of my readers. 

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