This classic children's novel is one of those rare books that is enjoyed by both children and adults alike. The secret lies in the lucid style of storyteller E. B. White and the unique story he tells. Charlotte's Web opens a world of possibilities for learning about friendship, compassion, loyalty, farm animals, and more.
The story begins when Fern, a young girl who loves animals, rescues the runt of the litter from her father's axe. She names the tiny pig Wilbur and cares for him until he is big enough to be raised at the farm of Fern's uncle, Homer Zukerman.
At Zukerman's farm, Wilbur meets a gossipy goose, a gloomy sheep, and a grouchy rat named Templeton. Wilbur is homesick and lonely for Fern until he finds a new friend, a beautiful gray spider named Charlotte, who lives in the eaves above Wilbur's pen.
When Wilbur finds out that he is destined to be butchered, Charlotte devises a plan to save her friend. She spins words into her web above Wilbur's pen. The news spreads across the countryside about Zukerman's Famous Pig, and Wilbur becomes a celebrity.
Elwyn Brooks White was born on July 11, 1899 in Mount Vernon, New York. He was the youngest in a large family, the son of a prosperous piano manufacturer. As a child he often felt lonely and uneasy, and he began writing at an early age in order to collect his thoughts.
After service as an Army private in 1918, White entered Cornell University and graduated in 1921. At Cornell University, White took William Strunk Jr.'s English class in both semesters of his junior year and received two A's. White also saw his professor at weekly meetings of a writing group called the Manuscript Club.
White worked in some miscellaneous jobs, such as reporter and advertising copywriter, before joining the staff of the newly established New Yorker weekly magazine in 1926. There he met Katherine Sergeant Angell, the magazine's fiction editor. They were married in 1929. For eleven years he wrote editorial essays, verse, and articles for the New Yorker magazine.
E.B. White was known for his crisp, graceful style. James Thurber once wrote, "No one can write a sentence like White." White often wrote from the perspective of a slightly ironic onlooker. His elegantly written essays satirized the complexities of civilization, the difficulties of modern society, and the failures of technological progress. White's poetry, in which he reflected upon "the small things of the day" and "trivial matters of the heart," was notable for its wit and perfection of form.
In 1939, White moved to a farm in North Brooklin, Maine, and continued his writing career without the obligations of a regular job. From 1938 to 1943, White was also associated with Harper's magazine, for which he wrote a monthly column on the pleasures of rural life.
In 1957, E.B. White wrote an essay for the New Yorker about his former professor, Will Strunk, which inspired a reissue of the original 1918 edition of Strunk's English usage and style text, The Elements of Style. This led to the 1959 edition in which White revised his essay on Will Strunk for the introduction, updated much of Strunk's advice and examples, and added a chapter titled "An Approach to Style." The revised edition, which came to be known simply as "Strunk and White," combines the experience of a language scholar and classroom teacher with the expertise of a professional writer. This small book has become a classic reference book for students and conscientious writers, and a fundamental work on the use of the English language.
E.B. White is perhaps best known for the three children's books that he wrote: Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte's Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970). In these stories he explored such themes as rural living, friendship, and salvation.
White was unhappy about the state of the world toward the end of his life. He was an enthusiastic supporter of internationalism and the United Nations, while he was also a sensitive spokesman for the freedom of the individual. White was skeptical about organized religion, and he advocated a respect for nature and simple living.
White's favorite book was Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, about which he said "Walden is the only book I own, although there are some others unclaimed on my shelves. Every man, I think, reads one book in his life, and this one is mine. It is not the best book I ever encountered, perhaps, but it is for me the handiest, and I keep it about me in much the same way one carries a handkerchief - for relief in moments of defluxion or despair." (White in The New Yorker, May 23, 1953)
E.B. White held honorary degrees from seven American colleges and universities, was awarded a gold medal for his essays by the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and received a Pulitzer Prize special citation in 1978. Charlotte's Web was a Newbery Honor book. E.B. White died of Alzheimer's disease on October 1, 1985 in North Brooklin, Maine.
There are commercially available audiocassettes that feature E.B. White reading Charlotte's Web. Of all the different interpretations of a work, there is nothing closer to the original than hearing the author read it himself. Listening to a story read by the author tells us exactly how he intended that story to be told. Also, it is said that hearing someone's voice is as important as reading about the life of that person.
Did You Know…?
When E. B. White wrote his children's books, he had very specific pictures in mind. Charlotte, he felt, should look exactly like a real spider. "When Garth Williams, the book's illustrator, tried to dream up a spider that had human characteristics, the results were awful," he said. Charlotte ended up looking just as White intended her to.
BABE: THE GALLANT PIG, by Dick King-Smith, 1985. (Also: BABE, a live-action video, 1995.) Farmer Hoggett wins a runt piglet, Babe, at a local fair. Babe befriends and learns about all the other creatures on the farm, and he becomes special friends with the sheepdogs, but he doesn't quite know his place in the world. With Farmer Hoggett's intuition and the sheep dogs' help, Babe embarks on a career in sheep herding with some surprising results. Babe becomes the greatest sheep pig of all time, and in the process learns that a pig can be anything he wants to be.
30 large marshmallows
Poke 8 small pieces of licorice (each about 2 inches long) into the large marshmallows for legs. Melt the chocolate chips. Dribble a large spoonful of melted chocolate over the marshmallows. Add two M & M's for eyes while the chocolate is still sticky. Makes 30 spiders.
Make a Dream Catcher
A Dream Catcher looks like a spider's web. Native Americans once made Dream Catchers to catch bad dreams, which would get stuck in the web and disappear when the sun came up. Good dreams float through the web, down a feather, and onto the person sleeping beneath it.
You will need:
Draw a ring inside the rim of the paper plate. Cut out the center of the plate to the inside edge of the ring. Then cut off the outside rim of the plate to the outside edge of the ring. Punch about 16 holes around the ring. Wrap masking tape around one end of the yarn. Push the taped end of the yarn into a hole and pull through, leaving about 3" extending out. Make a web by pulling the yarn through another hole and crisscrossing the yarn across the center to fill every hole. Finish by bringing the taped end of the yarn back to the first hole and tying it to the other end, letting the excess yarn hang down. Place beads on the yarn ends and slip a feather into the beads.
CHARLOTTE'S WEB, by E. B. White, 1952.
CHARLOTTE'S WEB (animated video, Hanna-Barbera, 1973).
CHARLOTTE'S WEB (unabridged recording read by the author), Bantam Audio, 192 minutes.
THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White.
STUART LITTLE, by E. B. White, 1945.
THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN, by E. B. White, 1970.
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These pages are a continuous work in progress.
These pages are a continuous work in progress.