Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Illustrations by Garth Williams
Published in 1952
Genre: Children’s literature
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White, is a classic and well-loved children’s story. The tale follows Wilbur; the runt of the litter, he is beset by the possibility of death from birth, but is saved by the kindness of friends. A book for children containing such themes as friendship, loyalty, growing up, life, and death, it is no wonder that it has remained as popular all these years after its first publication.
Something that Wilbur, the porky protagonist, learns in the story is that friendship is magical. Wilbur is saved by his friends; first by the little girl, Fern, who convinces her father not to kill him if she can be allowed to take care of him. She names Wilbur and, when he grows much larger, continually visits him at her uncle’s farm. It is there that Wilbur comes to socialize with the various farm animals, but doesn’t find a true friend until meeting a large, grey spider named Charlotte. It is she who saves Wilbur from becoming Christmas dinner when she comes up with a plan to write words in her web, hoping to trick the humans into keeping him alive. As the ruse works and the pair become closer, time passes and eventually their friendship must come to an end. Wilbur returns the favor by taking care of Charlotte’s egg sac after she is gone, befriending her various ancestors as the years go by and generations are born.
Charlotte’s Web argues that the little details in life are what truly make it beautiful if we take the time to notice them. The adults in the book comment on this when Fern says she has heard all of the conversations between the animals, commenting that maybe they just don’t listen to them as closely as she does. White’s descriptions, along with the illustrations by Williams, draw the reader into the world of these talking animals. He somehow makes slop sound appealing when describing the ingredients of the meals prepared for Wilbur. White also makes a conscious effort to reassure the young readers with foreshadowing, especially after his introduction of Charlotte being a blood-thirsty killer. Through this, we learn that not all is as some first impressions would have you believe.
The writing in the book is very proper and grammatically correct. However, this does lead some of the dialogue to become formulaic between different characters and leaves attempts to differentiate between some speech patterns feeling clunky. There are a lot of lists which cover the food Wilbur eats, types of animals, the scruples Templeton lacks, the seven parts of Charlotte’s legs, automobiles of people who come to see Wilbur and the web, the contents of Zuckerman’s garbage dump, the types of fair garbage, ways Wilbur could accidentally hurt Templeton in the wagon, all of the events that occur in the morning, and the things that make the barn the best place to be.
Charlotte’s Web is probably one of the most well-known books in North America. In addition to being a story for children, it is a handbook for good storytelling. White is able to create characters that we care about, address issues that affect us all, and does so in a way that is entertaining for any age. This is absolutely one of my favorite books, and it holds a special place in my heart due to containing one of my favorite passages of dialogue. I think we sometimes overlook the importance of friendship and being good to one another, especially in times of tumult. Charlotte’s Web is a reminder that we should seek to be friends with those around us, rather than enemies.
Verdict: 5 tremendous things out of 5
Recommended for: Adults, children, fans of good writing, fans of lists, and you!
Not recommended for: