What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this children's classic begins with the main character's (a young pig) near slaughter by a farmer; Wilbur also learns that he's to be eaten for Christmas dinner. A major character dies, peacefully but alone -- all children (and most adults) will cry. All readers will also be reminded about what it means to be a good friend and be inspired by the book's messages about the power of love.
What's the story?
When Fern convinces her father not to kill the runt pig of the litter, she names him Wilbur and raises him with a bottle. Soon Wilbur goes to live in her Uncle Homer Zuckerman's barn down the road, where she visits him every day. But when she's not there, Wilbur is lonely -- the sheep, cows, geese, and even the rats don't want to play and be his friend. Then he meets Charlotte, a gray spider whose web is in a corner of the barn door, and they become good friends. But soon after, they learn that Wilbur is to be slaughtered next Christmas to make ham and bacon. So Charlotte hatches a plan to make the Zuckermans want to keep Wilbur around forever.
Is it any good?
One of the all-time great classics of children's literature, this gentle story with its kindly wisdom about friendship and love has survived and prospered even in the digital age because its themes are universal and timeless: It will inspire readers to think about how we should make and keep friends, and how we should treat each other. Though most readers will cry near the end, it's never maudlin or sappy. Indeed, it's New Yorker editor and author E.B. White's avoidance of cuteness, astringent prose, whimsical humor, and matter-of-factness about life-and-death issues that sets CHARLOTTE'S WEB apart from the pack.
His heroine is a hairy spider who sucks the blood out of flies, aided by a rat, and they're working to save Wilbur from the reality of every working barn. Kind people can be ugly and sometimes cruel, others can be greedy but helpful, snooty but caring. The world can be harsh but also beautiful and warm. It's a lovely fantasy grounded in reality, and perhaps that's why kids have loved it for so long -- they know when they're being told the truth.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the various concepts of friendship presented here. Charlotte obviously gives a lot in this relationship -- what does she get in return? How does Fern and Wilbur's relationship change?
Charlotte's Web was published in the 1950s and is considered a children's classic. Why do you think it continues to be so popular with readers? What other books have you read that you think are -- or should be -- classics?