E.B. White's Charlotte's Web
illustrated by Garth Williams
Book review by Ramona Davis
Charlotte's Web opens on the farm of John Arable where one morning before breakfast, his daughter Fern questions why he is walking to the barn with an ax. What she is told by her mother is that he is going to kill one of the piglets because he is too small.
Fern gets terribly upset, running after her father, and begging him not to kill the piglet.
She even points out that he would never kill her if she was too small to make it in the world. After calmly listening to Fern's argument, Mr. Arable decides to let her raise the pig as her own, telling her that she will “...see what trouble a pig can be.”
When Mr. Arable brings the piglet in to Fern, it is love at first sight and she immediately sees the piglet as "Wilbur."
Fern takes him everywhere she can, feeding him with a baby bottle, keeping him warm, and making sure he is loved and nurtured as a baby should be.
When she can't feed him because she has school, her mother takes over the chore for her, and Wilbur soon grows up healthy and rambunctious.
When he gets to be too much of a handful to be kept at the Arables' home, Fern's parents suggest that she sell Wilbur to Fern's Uncle Homer Zuckerman so that she can see him every day.
Uncle Homer agrees to buy Wilbur for $6.00, and while she visits as much as she can, Fern's visits become less and less the older she gets.
This causes the once happy Wilbur to feel lonely, missing Fern, and has him searching out new friends at the farm.
When all seems lost to Wilbur because no one wants to be his friend (except Templeton the Rat, who only wants Wilbur for his food), he hears the voice of Charlotte, a gray spider, who tells him that she will be his friend.
After having an exhausting day of trying to make friends, Wilbur falls in to an exhausted sleep, but not before wishing to meet his new friend when he wakes up.
The next day, Wilbur searches high and low around the barn to find his new friend but can't find her. What he doesn't know is that she is very near, just asleep. Then, shortly after breakfast he hears her voice say, “Salutations,” and the two talk about what the greeting means until Charlotte tells him to look above his head to find her.
As Charlotte and Wilbur become friends, and Wilbur's world starts to look up, the sheep start to fill Wilbur's head with the suggestion that he is going to be fattened up to be eaten for Christmas dinner.
Wilbur immediately asks his friend Charlotte for help and what ensues is a mad rescue attempt to save Wilbur's life on the Zuckerman farm that includes Charlotte's webbed, worded creations making Wilbur the most famous pig in the land.
With Charlotte's help, and the assistance of Templeton the
Rat, Wilbur's life is spared and he wins a prize at the county fair.
This book by E. B. White not only remains a classic in children's literature, but has always been one of my favorite books; I still have my very first copy - part of the 21st printing in 1972, priced at $.95, and read it whenever I want a quick pick me up based on love, friendship, and compassion.
Written before we had movies where animals could talk to each other, E. B. White helped spark the imagination of millions of children and allowed them to see how precious life was, even in farm living where animals were raised to go to slaughter to feed families.
He also taught the value of friendship across social divides - even among animals - and showed us how strong those bonds of friendship can be (as he does when Charlotte dies and Wilbur befriends the three of her daughters who stay on the farm.)
Charlotte's Web is a classic to have on any bookshelf, to be read again and again by children of all ages - even adults - who want a lighthearted romp through the bonds of friendship that make the world go round and round.
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