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Charlotte's Web | Class #6, 2016

Charlotte's WebDuring our last class meeting, we will be holding six mock book award sessions. There are four Caldecott groups and one each for Geisel and Sibert. Check out the books they have nominated here and tell us which one would get your first vote.

Charlotte's Web has been my last class reading assignment for several years, and I think of it as our dessert book. While most of the students have already read it, most years about a third of them haven't, particularly those who didn't grow up in the U.S. It also fits in with our award theme that day because it did not win the Newbery in 1953 — though it was an honor book.

If this was your first read, what did you think? Did it live up to its reputation as a classic? If this was a re-read, what did you notice this time that you might have missed before?

We're also reading an article about E. B. White from the Smithsonian Magazine website that sheds some light on the origins of this book. Rather than dividing up this week's reading, let's discuss both the book and the article in the comments of this post.

Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught children’s literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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Soujanya Ganig

Unlike many I hadn’t read Charlotte’s Web when I was growing up. And once I grew up, while I always knew that it was one of the classics, I never came around to reading it because I thought the book was about a girl named Charlotte and her experience with a spider. My snap judgement about the book prevented me from ever picking up the book. But I am so glad that this book was on the reading list. I was on an emotional roller-coaster ride while reading the book and thought it was one of the most beautiful and touching stories I have ever read and know that I will revisit this book many times in my adult life. And one thing I kept wondering while reading the book was how young readers would react to some of the information in the book. But then I am reminded of a beautiful quote we came across in the readings for the first class which talked about how children feel emotions more deeply because they have not yet developed the defense mechanisms that adults develop in the growing up years. Hence, while this book can be enjoyed even in adulthood, its impact can be best felt by a child in those growing up, most innocent years.

Posted : May 07, 2016 01:26

Iliana Gutierrez

In taking this class and reading so many new picture books, I've come to appreciate the notion of "sacred words" as a theme that recurs in some of the stories. _Dave the Potter_, for example, captures that special reverence for expression through language. It's a theme I don't think I would have noticed as a child. In rereading Charlotte's Web, I felt that magic of words--"SOME PIG" and "TERRIFIC"-- and was deeply impressed by the idea of these words woven into Charlotte's web and how they could have the power to transform so many lives. It's true that the magic could just be in the "miracle" of being written out in a web, but I feel like it means so much more than that. It captures the power of words to create an impact. Woven into her web, SOME PIG and TERRIFIC seemed to capture both the ephemerality and the lasting significance of words. Before rereading this story, I never would have thought of Charlotte as a writer, but it's clear to me that she is.

Posted : May 04, 2016 10:04

Kara Lawson

I will simply add to the overwhelming admiration expressed in previous posts for this beautiful book. I’ve read Charlotte's Web many times in my life, including every fall with the past five third grade classes I’ve taught. Though I had read it with a small guided group of readers before that, I’ve found this to be an extraordinary story that is at its very best when heard aloud and celebrated as a community; my class cherishes this book every year. As students gather at the carpet, I’m grateful that we can experience this magical story of life, death, and friendship together. I always struggle reading aloud the final two chapters… inevitably, I cry every time, as do some of the children, but this is part of the what makes the book so profoundly radiant. E.B. White, who could “animate a splash of sunlight,” makes us feel so deeply. This assignment peaked my interest to learn more of the backstory of Charlotte’s Web, and as I kept digging I was fascinated to learn from an All Things Considered piece that even E.B. White himself, when he recorded the audiobook in 1970, had trouble getting through that scene. "He broke down — just as I did," recalled audiobook producer Joe Berk in a 1991 NPR interview. "We did 17 takes. ... We went on a short walk, and he turned to me, and he said, 'It's ridiculous: a grown man reading a book that he wrote, and being unable to read it aloud because of tears.’” It's not ridiculous at all.

Posted : May 04, 2016 09:17

Robin Kane

I really enjoyed reading all of the comments on this post. I'm not surprised at how many people love this book and have such strong feelings about the characters and about the writer, E.B. White. I read Charlotte's Web as a child, and many times as a teacher, but my favorite readings were those I shared with my daughters. This remarkable story is even more enjoyable when read out loud, which is what I did with my children. Although my daughters were all several years apart, each one listened with rapt attention and begged me to read "just one more page" when time for reading was over. As both a teacher and a parent, I appreciate the rich language in the book which bolsters children's vocabulary and acts as a springboard for deep discussions about loyalty, friendship, and bravery. I totally agree with Montserrat in that the writing reads like oral language, making it feel authentic and genuine.

Posted : May 04, 2016 08:48

Kaitlin Herbert

I've been lucky enough to read Charlotte's Web several times throughout my life. I read it as a child, reread it in a Children's Lit class in college, read it as a read aloud for 3rd graders and finally reread it again now! Each time I read it, I find it more enjoyable, particularly the tender moments between Charlotte, Fern and Wilbur. I enjoyed Anthony's comment discussing legacy and how character actions have the ability to sum up one's life. While the characters are animals, EB White's love of animals made the characters appear human.

Posted : May 04, 2016 07:56

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