Charlotte's Web was written by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams. It was published in 1952 by Harper and Row.
I chose to read Charlotte's Web, a Newberry Honor book, because it has been over twenty years since the last time I read it. I remember it fondly as a child and wanted to revisit and old favorite to see if I continued to enjoy it as an adult.
Charlotte's Web tale of Wilbur, the pig, and his best friend, Charlotte, a spider. Wilbur was the runt of his litter and his owner, Mr. Arable, wanted to kill him. He said "the runt is more trouble than it's worth" and tried to take an ax to Wilbur. Mr. Arable's daughter, Fern, saved Wilbur and raised him as her infant until he could live on his own, at which time Mr. A sold Wilbur to his neighbor and brother-in-law Homer Zuckerman. There were several other animals at the farm for Wilbur to talk to -- a goose and gander, a sheep, cows, and a rat, Templeton. None of the animals considered Wilbur to be his friend, so he was very excited when he met a new animal -- Charlotte. Wilbur's life was going okay (he didn't love that he had to stay fenced in or the love he now missed from Fern) until the other animals explained to him that he was being fattened up for the Zuckerman's Christmas pig. Once he knew that, he was scared and worried all of the time. Charlotte promised to save him, and came up with an idea to help. Charlotte was quite the clever spider and she didn't feel as though humans were all that bright. "'The way to save Wilbur's life is to play a trick on Zuckerman. If I can fool a bug,' thought Charlotte, 'I can surely fool a man. People are not as smart as bugs.'" Charlotte's idea -- to create webs with words describing Wilbur -- worked. The Arables and the Zuckerman's were astonished, as were the many visitors their farm received. The Zuckerman's even won an award for Wilbur at the state fair because of how intrigued everyone was with Wilbur. True to her promise, Charlotte saved Wilbur, but all did not turn out well for everyone. At the state fair, Charlotte died. She knew she was going to, and was able to lay her egg sac beforehand. Wilbur took the egg sac home and lived with her children and grandchildren for the rest of his years.
This story is one of great friendship and compassion. Charlotte stepped up to be Wilbur's friend when no other animal wanted anything to do with him. She was kind to him from the beginning. "'Salutations are greetings,' said the voice. 'When I say salutations, it's just my fancy way of saying hello or good morning. Actually, it's a silly expression, and I am surprised that I said it at all. As for my whereabouts, that's easy. Look up here in the corner of the doorway! here I am. Look, I'm waving!"' From that moment on, she was Wilbur's best friend. Wilbur was quite naive and took Charlotte's friendship for granted. He got frustrated with her when she didn't come up with a way to save him right away, and became angry when she wasn't sure if she would be joining him at the fair. Although she told him she wasn't feeling that well and didn't plan on going, he begged her. "'Please come with me,' begged Wilbur. I need you, Charlotte! I can't stand to go to the fair without you. You've just got to come!'" When Charlotte finally agreed, Wilbur forgot completely of her not feeling well and only responded, "Oh good! I knew you wouldn't forsake me just when I needed you most."
Because of the way Wilbur reacted to Charlotte, for much of the book, I considered their friendship one sided. It wasn't until the end when Wilbur took Charlotte's egg sac that I saw him truly return the friendship. He was kind to all of her offspring, for generations to come.
It was interesting to read a book that had been published over 60 years ago. The culture of how they grew up and were portrayed so much differently than today. On page 4, White writes, "Avery was ten. He was heavily armed -- an air rifle in one hand, a wooden dagger in the other." Knowing that today, a student gets expelled for having a play gun on his key chain, it amazes me that there was a time kids could get on the bus with air rifles and wooden daggers. It was also a shock when the Arables allowed Fern and Avery to run off on their own at the fair. Maybe I'm a little overprotective of my own children, but I couldn't imagine allowing them to go off on their own in such a public place.
Overall, Charlotte's Web was just as good of a book today as it was when I was a child. The friendship between Fern and Wilbur, and then Wilbur and Charlotte, was heartwarming. They each grew and moved on in their own way. Fern started growing up and enjoying time with Henry, instead of coming to the farm. The Zuckerman's kept Wilbur safe from the Christmas dinner and allowed him to live his life on the farm. Even Wilbur grew in his understanding of friendship after Charlotte passed away. He wanted to ensure a good life for her babies, and did just that, for generations of spiders. Charlotte's Web is a wonderful book for children. If you would like to find a copy, you can find it here.