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Charlotte's Web | Class #6, fall 2016

Charlotte's WebOur class won't meet next Wednesday because of Thanksgiving, so this post is going up early.

During our last class meeting (November 30), we will be holding five mock book award sessions. There are three Caldecott groups and one each for Geisel and Sibert. Check out the books they have nominated here [link to come] and tell us which title in each list would get your first vote.

Charlotte's Web has always 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, every year several 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. Even after all these years, I find it to be the pinnacle of excellence in this field.

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. We'll discuss both the book and the article in the comments of this post.

Note: Students have been asked to research specific book creators and websites and add their findings in the comments.

  • Siyuan L. on Garth Williams

  • Katie S. on Randolph Caldecott (person and medal)

  • Lizz A. on Theodore Geisel (person and award)

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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Theodor Geisel, more commonly known to most as Dr. Seuss, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts on March 2, 1904. Given his incredibly prolific repertoire of children’s books, this day signifies a celebration of reading to many, including many formal organizations like Pi Beta Phi Fraternity, who have dubbed it Fraternity Day of Service, furthering their philanthropic efforts centered around the promotion of literacy. While many know about Dr. Seuss’ intense work ethic or his many children’s books written with the help and support of his wife, here are a few things you might not know… -Dr. Seuss was never a doctor (nor a Seuss – this was Geisel’s mother’s maiden name). Instead, he chose to add this title to his name as a whimsical, lighthearted way to give his characters added credibility. -Geisel had terrible stage fright, dating back to a presentation of medals by Theodore Roosevelt to children who sold large amounts of war bonds in support of WWI. Ten boys, including Geisel, were selected to receive this medal, but only nine medals were present at the ceremony, leading President Roosevelt to ask what young Geisel, the last boy in line to receive a medal, was doing on stage. -Geisel’s career began illustrating for magazines and advertisements, where he experienced much success, despite having been described as a “mediocre” college student at Dartmouth. He then shifted to Hollywood film making, while dabbling in writing on the side. It wasn’t until much later that his focus shifted more fully to writing books. -Geisel’s artwork was heavily influenced by the surrealist movement, which he was particularly fascinated by when in Paris in the 1920s. -As part of a documentary film-making team, Geisel traveled with troops during WWII and ended up briefly being caught behind enemy lines in the beginnings of what would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge. -Between the years of 1957 and 1976, Geisel regularly produced two to three books a year, in addition to making movies. He was incredibly involved in the publishing choices for these books, down to the very colors that were used in printing. -Geisel’s last book, Oh the Places You’ll Go!, was published in 1990. Recently (2015), a book he had drafted but never published, What Pet Should I Get?, was published posthumously. For more information on the life and impact of Theodore Geisel, visit:

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 04:07

Tim M.

Some of my earliest feelings of the kind of wistful sadness that (only?) pieces of art (literature, music, art) can bring come from the first time I finished _Charlotte's Web_. Like others above, it was also one of my first chapter books (sometime in the middle of elementary school), but my clearest memory is that the book also held a clear message about the fragility and transience of life. Who wouldn't start to form an emotional attachment for these characters, brought into our imaginations by the vibrancy of White's writing? In a certain sense, this book is a right of passage for young people -- especially those who are dealing with (the potential of) loss. Yet there is a greater message here about life -- that it's short (too short sometimes) and we don't have too much time to support, build up, and even love those who travel with us on the journey. By the kindnesses exchanged between Wilbur and Charlotte, children and adults alike see that relationships can be mutually sustaining without letting the other off the hook. We see that simple gestures can serve as tremendous kindnesses to others, even as their own road may not always be smooth.

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 03:21

Andrea M.

I think it was my fourth grade teacher who read Charlotte's Web to us. However, this was the first time I read it on my own, and as many of you have stated, I noticed many different aspects I certainly didn't remember. One of the first thoughts I had was how profound Wilbur's reflections about life were: "Wilbur didn't want food, he wanted love. He wanted a friend -someone who would play with him." I particularly enjoyed the animals' personalities and the way each one acted and expressed itself. I was also delighted with the illustrations, because, as Katherine said, I didn't remember seeing them as a child. Furthermore, this beautiful story made me reflect on my own childhood, and how as an adult I many times forget to imagine and to allow myself to be surprised by my surroundings, just like Fern; and to above all enjoy the here and now, just like Charlotte did.

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 03:18

Joyce Rafla

I thought this book was a fascinating story that students are exposed to. The friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur is full of warmth without being too cheesy and the level of vocabulary that the book introduces is also great!

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 12:43

Jinwen Ye

Charlotte's Web is also a famous book for children in China. It has been listing as the “must-read” book since I was a child. I didn’t really read it because I didn’t really appreciate the story when I read the first few paragraphs as a child. Then, I saw the film, but I didn’t keep on watching because I felt that it was not my type. However, having heard that many people really like this book, I decided to give it a try. I found that it indeed is a great book for children. Learning about relationship with animals around the heroine, children can really empathize and learn to expand their circle of concerns.

Posted : Nov 29, 2016 12:06

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