Because I was born during WWII, I did not read Charlotte’s Web as a child, or at least that’s the excuse I offer. My first encounter with the title was during the first year of my teaching, 1967. I was teaching seventh grade in a junior high setting, and in class I had asked the kids what was the best book they’d ever read. Unanimously, they agreed on Charlotte’s Web. Making little sense of their explanations that it was about a pig, a spider, and a girl and how the girl saved the pig with the help of the spider and the spider died. They were all taking at once in crazy run-on sentences, and I was totally unimpressed. That same afternoon, when I went to pick up My Better Half, who was starting his first year of teaching math at a nearby junior high in the same district, he asked me to “work on something” and let him finish a set of quizzes. I sat down in a student desk and discovered a copy of Charlotte’s Web that had been left in the desk. Call it serendipity; call it coincidence. I settled in, and began to read.
It was indeed what the children said, and so, so much more. It was a story of friendship, loyalty, and of dealing with death. Later, it was often on my Top Ten bulletin board list during the next ten years when I taught seventh grade for Alvin (Texas) Independent School District.
I also had a “relationship” with Charlotte’s author, E.B. White. Because there was no Google my first year to teach, I never realized that our composition handbook’s author was the same. My very first class of seventh graders used White’s Elements of Style almost every day without ever realizing who he was.
When I began teaching at the university where I teach now, I used Elements as a required textbook. I still refer to him and read from his text in my Advanced Writing classes. Sadly, I no longer require the students to read from it because they complain about the “big words” and “stilted phrases” White uses (their words) and struggle to read it–sadly the same text the seventh graders of 1967 read, discussed, and asked questions about when it was too “hard” for them.
Sometime after 2014 when I started this blog (PWR), I came across a biography of White in Half Price Books, and enjoyed it so much I wrote a post reviewing it. It is The Story of Charlotte’s Web by Michael Sims. To read my review of it, type the title into the search box at the top or look it up by date, July 1, 2016. It will give you a pretty accurate idea of what the book covers.
I realize this is a personal history and not a review, as requested by Jay at “This Is My Truth Now” for his August Children’s Marathon, but the beginning of school is here, and this is what I have to offer today.
If you haven’t read Charlotte’s Web, read Jay’s review of it and get to know Charlotte and Wilbur. Warning: Keep a box of tissues nearby.