Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White


In a poll of librarians, teachers, publishers and authors, Publisher’s Weekly asked for a list of the best children’s books ever published in the United States. By a substantial margin, the No. 1 book was E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.

An affectionate, sometimes bashful pig named Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who lives in the rafters above his pen. A prancing, playful bloke, Wilbur is devastated when he learns of the destiny that befalls all those of porcine persuasion. Determined to save her friend, Charlotte spins a web that reads “Some Pig,” convincing the farmer and surrounding community that Wilbur is no ordinary animal and should be saved. In this story of friendship, hardship, and the passing on into time, E.B. White reminds us to open our eyes to the wonder and miracle often found in the simplest of things. (Amazon)

char-web-3Today’s selection was chosen by our office manager, Terry. We were surprised, because she hates spiders. In North Carolina, we have a black and yellow spider, the Argiope, also known as the zipper spider or writing spider. The name comes from the characteristic stabilimentum found in their webs. These extra thick lines of silk were once thought to stabilize the web (hence the name) but are now thought to be decorations, either to attract prey or gain the attention of a potential mate.

Some say E.B. White came up with the idea for Charlotte’s Web after observing stabilimenta in a spider web.

This is the 60th Anniversary Edition of the Newbery Honor winner, with illustrations by Garth Williams. Although firmly ensconced in Children’s Literature, the reader reviews show that adults and teenagers also love the story. Many people seem to identify strongly with the barn’s resident rodent:

Special mention should be made of Templeton the rat. Gluttonous, sneaky, often nasty, but curiously sympathetic, Templeton is one of the great anti-heroes in modern literature. (Michael J. Mazza)

The book was also made into a movie, twice, the most recent one starring Julia Roberts and Steve Buscemi.

Now there’s even a book about the book. Michael Sims’ The Story of Charlotte’s Web traces E.B. White’s life up to his 50s, when he began writing his masterpiece. The final part of the book reveals the inspiration and struggles which led to publication.

White studied the lives of spiders for a year before writing his novel. “I discovered, quite by accident,” he explained, “that reality and fantasy make good bedfellows.”

Maybe the best review of his work comes from White himself. In his later years, suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, White’s son would read to him from his own books. Occasionally, White would stop his son and ask who wrote that. When told that he did, White would ponder that for a moment, then say, “Not bad.”