Book Review: “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White

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It would be a shame if I really had to say a lot to introduce this book. This 1952 Newbery Honor Book is a treasured classic of American children’s literature. And whether you live in a simple farming community (as I did, when this book was first read to me) or in a great metropolis, re-reading it can be like going home.

Wilbur is the runt of a litter of pigs. Little Fern Arable saves him from being put down, bottle-feeds him, and (a month later) sells him to her uncle, Homer Zuckerman. Uncle Homer installs Wilbur in the barn cellar with the sheep, the geese, a rat named Templeton, and a spider named Charlotte. While Fern comes every day to sit on a milking stool and listen to the animals talk to each other, Wilbur and Charlotte form a close friendship. This friendship is cemented when Charlotte promises to save Wilbur from being killed and eaten. How does she do it? It’s all in the way she spins her web.

The people and many of the animals in this story become unforgettable characters. And at first it appears that it may be no more than a story about barnyard life from the animal’s point of view, until messages start appearing, spelled out in block letters in Charlotte’s web. From that point on it is a magical tale of friendship, small deeds of heroism, the beauty of changing seasons, and love that transcends death. You will laugh at the greedy rat, you will fall in love with the “radiant, humble” pig, and you will weep for the last creature you would ever have imagined that you would find beautiful: a gray spider.

Have you somehow managed not to read this book, or have it read to you? Or has it been more than a few years since you revisited it? Go home again to the masterpiece of E.B. White, unless you wish to prove what Charlotte tells Wilbur: “People are not as smart as bugs.” Or are you too grown up for a book like this? Maybe Dr. Dorian’s words apply: “Children pay better attention than grownups.” What millions of children know, you adults out there can learn again. This is a great book.