By E.B. White, with Kate DiCamillo and Garth Williams
Harper, $8.99, 184 pages
For generations, E.B. White’s simple tale of life on a farm has inspired wonder in children and adults alike. Last year marked the 60th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte’s Web, and its story and life lessons remain timeless. For modern children who are increasingly losing touch with the farm lifestyle and where their food comes from, this classic tale opens a window into another world. Beginning with those oft-remembered first words – “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” – Charlotte’s Web is the story of a spring pig named Wilbur, a girl named Fern who saved him from the ax of her father and a rather miraculous spider named Charlotte who sealed his eventual fate. We get to know members of Fern’s family and other animals on the farm, most notably the selfish but useful rat Templeton.
White studied a great deal of natural history in preparation for writing the book, and he wonderfully employs details of life on a farm, from the anatomy of a spider to descriptions of nature during seasonal change. While generations of readers may already know how the story ends, White’s storytelling is such that, upon a new reading, one may forget having read it before. Serious lessons on life, death, friendship, trust, loss and remembrance are so beautifully placed within a world of talking animals that one easily forgets that Charlotte’s Web is a children’s book. Instead it is a family book, one to be shared.
Reviewed by Michael Barton