Thursday, February 23, 2012

Charlotte's Web by EB White illustrated by Garth Williams

At last Wilbur saw the creature that had spoken to him in such a kindly way. Stretched across the upper part of the doorway was a big spider’s web, and hanging from the top of the web, head down, was a large grey spider. She was about the size of a gumdrop. She had eight legs and she was waving one of them at Wilbur in a friendly greeting.”

Yes I have just re-read Charlotte’s Web and once again marveled at the story telling, the rich vocabulary and the precious words of wisdom this deservedly famous book contains.

Rather than talk about the plot for Charlotte’s web I thought I might quote a few of my favourite passages :

If Fern took her doll for a walk in the doll carriage, Wilbur followed along. Sometimes on these journeys, Wilbur would get tired, and Fern would pick him up and put him in the carriage alongside the doll. He liked this and if he was very tired, he would close his eyes and go to sleep under the doll’s blanket. He looked cute when his eyes were closed, because his lashes were so long. The doll would close her eyes too, and Fern would wheel the carriage very slowly and smoothly so as not to wake her infants.”

I’m very young. I have no real friend here in the barn …(then) out of the darkness, came a small voice he had never heard before. It sounded rather thin, but pleasant. ‘Do you want a friend, Wilbur?’ it said. ‘I’ll be a friend to you. I’ve watched you all day and I like you.”

Well,’ he thought ‘I’ve got a friend, all right but what a gamble friendship is! Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty – everything I don’t like.’… Wilbur was merely suffering the doubts and fears that often go with finding a new friend. In good time he was to discover that he was mistaken about Charlotte. Underneath her rather bold and cruel exterior, she had a kind heart, and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end.”

Never hurry, never worry.”

The meeting is now adjourned. I have a busy evening ahead of me. I’ve got to tear my web apart and write TERRIFIC.’ Wilbur blushed. ‘But I’m not terrific, Charlotte. I’m just about average for a pig.’ ‘You’re terrific as far as I’m concerned,’ replied Charlotte, sweetly, ‘and that’s what counts. You’re my best friend, and I think you’re sensational. Now stop arguing and go get some sleep!”

Why did you do all this for me?” … ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. … By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

If you love Charlotte’s web you must read another book by EB White called The Trumpet of the Swan. You would also enjoy A rat's tale by Tor Seidler ….. and Mrs Fribsy and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C O’Brien.

Finally in as a delightful little example of serendipity as I was reading Charlotte's Web I chanced upon the list of 100 greatest children's books and Charlotte is number one!! I was quite pleased to see I had read about half of these although sadly only one Australia book is mentioned. Lists are always problematic. Who wrote the list? How did they select these books? Who is the intended audience? Lists are out of date almost as soon as they are devised. I know when ever I write a list it always contains the last two or three books I have read - kind of like a little time machine. There are endless references to Charlotte's Web on the internet if you need teaching ideas. Here is just one.

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