Charlotte's Web by E B White

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Charlotte's Web by E B White

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A wonderful fantasy story for children with deep roots in reality. It'll make you cry. It'll make them cry. It'll also make you all smile. Lots. Simple, direct writing and a dash of humour make Charlotte's Web equally suitable for reading aloud by parents and for younger children confident at reading alone.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: September 2003
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 0141317345

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

Fern, a farmer's child, persuades her father to give her the runt pig he is about to butcher. Fern names her pet Wilbur and feeds him up with milk from her doll's nursing bottle. She is so successful that Wilbur is soon far from the runt of the litter. As he gains girth her parents firmly banish him back to the farmyard where he belongs and it is here that the fantasy begins. Wilbur starts to have some fun and makes friends with the other animals. Fern spends long periods of time watching Wilbur daily and discovers that she understands what the animals are saying to each other. Within Fern's everyday world a little pool of magic exists creating a reality all of its very own. Of course, her parents don't believe her. They start to worry. In fact they worry so much that they call in the doctor to have a look at their daughter who lives they think, in a fantasy world. Of course she does, but it's not the sort of fantasy world for limited adults.

Back in the farmyard Wilbur has learned about the autumn butchering and his own unfortunate role in it. He doesn't want to die. Help is at hand though, for Charlotte the spider befriends him and promises to help save his bacon. (Oops, sorry, but you must have known I'd get that horrid pun in somehow.). Her various devices for doing this are unique and exceedingly funny. She begins to weave words about him in her web; words that will call attention to young Wilbur in a very special way. She weaves words like "SOME PIG" and "TERRIFIC". Wilbur is so full of admiration that he tries, hilariously and unsuccessfully, to emulate her with a string tied to his tail. And as Charlotte weaves her words so is the magic for Wilbur woven. Word spreads and Wilbur becomes a special little pig and a famous little pig. He's a miracle. As the big day, market day, approaches what will happen to Wilbur who faints when he hears the farmer talking of ham and bacon? And what does the future hold for Charlotte, her egg sac and her future babies? Soon, so soon, the day arrives and Wilbur must go alone, without Charlotte who must stay in the barn and take care of her precious egg sac. Just in case you've not read it I won't tell you what happens but I will warn you. If you do buy Charlotte's Web for your children read it to yourself first and see; especially if you're prone to tears like me.

I think Charlotte's Web is a fantasy universally acclaimed by adults and universally loved by children. Wilbur is a true pig - he relishes slops and good soft muck. But he is also a child, lonely, wanting friends, turning to Charlotte for understanding, reassurance, entertainment, love and most importantly a solution to his most urgent problem. Wilbur is no hero; he's a frightened little boy. But he is obedient and tries his best to live up to all the good things Charlotte weaves about him in her web. All the readers and listeners I've known have responded to White's simple direct writing and the both the humour and the pathos in his story.

No one read Charlotte's Web aloud to me. I read it myself as a very little girl and it was the first book ever to make me cry. I've never forgotten it. Like tears at those cheesy films when you're older, I can remember crying for poor Charlotte; so brave, so generous, so funny. I'm not sure any book that's made me cry since has ever had quite such an impact and I'm so hopelessly weepy that I promise you there have been a fair few literary tears since those first, childish ones. Somehow though, even then, I think I realised that it was all right and things were just as they were meant to be for Charlotte. I still think of that little spider's hundreds of babies and I still remember being six or seven and shedding the first "laughing tears" of my short life.

The thing to remember about fantasy, especially children's fantasy, is that it's deeply rooted in reality. It didn't start out in story form; it's older than that, probably as old as anything is. In the fantasy that is 'Charlotte's Web' magically, through the funny and endearing partnership of a talking pig and a talking spider the basic truths of life are set out for your children. Fantasy helps children to understand reality even as it provides them with a flight into funnier and more exciting worlds. It helps them face reality but with imagination, creativity and spontaneity of thought.

For a realist take on the circle of life, try our review of The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden.

Booklists.jpg Charlotte's Web by E B White is in the Top Ten Classics of Children's Literature.

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Kate said:

This is another of those seminal American children's books - and they did a good animated film of it that is now a classic.

My favourite line was the one the farmer's wife gave - she remarked that it wasn't the pig that was was the spider!

Dave said:

I think this was the first book that made me realise how final death really was. It is beautifully written and it really is as good a "coming of age" story as you will find for children.

Princesslilz said:

This Book is fantesic i loved every single moment of it. It is very nice to read for young children.

Lily Aged 12