By E. B. White, Illustrated by Garth Williams
Published by: HarperCollins; English Language edition (April 10, 2012)
Available in: hardcover, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook CD, audible
“…the miracle of the web.”
Originally published in 1952, this classic children’s book continues to defy age, fads and hot new changes in the publishing industry. So much has been written about Charlotte’s Web that I will simply take the time to consider why it’s still one of the best chapter books on the market.
First, Charlotte’s Web is, in essence, about the natural order: life and death, human relationships, the food chain, human behavior, the changing of the seasons and the universal appeal of a Ferris wheel. As Wilbur, our hero pig, describes Charlotte as both “bloodthirsty and cruel,” so too can this book be brutal. But that’s life. It’s a good lesson for readers at any age.
Second, unlike so many classics, this ultimately heartwarming tale holds up well with age. From perky, descriptive dialogue to soft, inviting illustrations, there is not a moment when the reader feels out of place. I mentioned in recent posts that other classics, such as Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and so many others of their generations, do not fare so well. Charlotte feels timeless, breathes with life and is easily seen as relevant today.
And yet, the farm setting and slow world of rural life is probably something that most children these days only imagine. What a wonderful gift to give them a book that infuses their minds with the smells, chores, rhythms and harsh realities of a working farm.
Third, the voice of this novel is perfectly done. Use of the omniscient point of view is not usually found in current children’s books, probably because it is so utterly difficult to do well. Students of writing take note: this is woven to perfection. The vocabulary as well is smart and precocious without being snobbish. For this reason it’s a shame this book isn’t available as an e-book yet, because then young readers could tap away at instant definitions of words they surely don’t know.
Because of the vocabulary, subject matter and a few other aspects (not many illustrations, use of smaller type size and less white space, for example), Charlotte’s Web is close to middle grade. And yet. This is a chapter book for the older chapter book reader. Those just venturing into independent reading would perhaps be lost and intimidated with the text. And what a shame it would be for children not to romp in the cellar of Zuckerman’s barn.
Fourth, this is one of those books that are equally relevant to both girls and boys. Yes, there’s a girl on the cover. But our main hero is Wilbur, the pig, and Charlotte, the spider—and what boy doesn’t love pigs and spiders? To say nothing of the extremely boyish brother, Avery, who always has a weapon, evil plan or dirty shirt to add to the drama.
Lastly, the 60th Anniversary Edition also contains an eloquent, poignant foreword by one of our contemporary greats, Kate DiCamillo. Her thoughts lend a perspective on both the text and the weight of this book within a life’s journey. More than most, this foreword adds an elegance and relevance that adult readers can appreciate.
What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….