by White, E. B.. Illustrated by Garth Williams. (HarperCollins, 1999 ISBN 0060263857. Order Info[->0].) Novel. Grades 3+.
This book that's brought tears and laughter to so many generations is a book that we tend to take for granted. It got no Newbery Award to put it along side the giants of children's literature: the award for 1953 went to a book called Secret of the Andes. Charlotte's Web was an also ran. The good news is that Charlotte's Web became a classic anyway.
I will admit that the book sat unread on my bookshelf for many weeks when it first came to my attention. I was teaching second grade and had two young daughters at home at the time. An aunt had given me a copy with warm recommendations. However, the cover put me off. A vulnerable little girl holds a pig. You can barely see the spider dangling over the head of a sheep. I confess that I dread reading most animal books. I know, when I see a child clutching an appealing animal on the cover of a novel for young people, that the author is going to make me love that animal and then it's going to die or be mistreated or at least be in dreadful danger. I was sure that pig was going to be killed, and so I kept opting for another book for reading aloud. Finally, I started the book, hanging on even when Wilbur's life is threatened in the first line. Of course I went on. Of course I read it to my own children and to the children at school and to many, many children since then. What a perfect book it is!
Look how Charlotte's Web has affected us. Spiders all over America probably don't realize how often their lives have been spared because the person who spies one in the house has read Charlotte's Web. No such reader has ever looked at a young pig without thinking of Wilbur. Surely we've looked at spider webs hoping to spot some trace of a word in its intricacies. And, while most of us still fail to appreciate rats, we do smile at the gluttonous but ultimately heroic Templeton....