You have been my friend, ' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what's a life anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die. A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.'
Charlotte's Web is a chapter book about impending death, gluttony, friendship, co-existence and love. Author E.B.White weaves these many strands to spin the wonderous tale.
A pig fights the odds, thanks to the kindness of a little girl Fern who rescues him from certain death-she fights with her father who was going to slaughter the undersized piglet. Wilbur, as he is named is the heir of the first of many precious friendships. In Fern's tender care and love, that include strolls in her dolls pram we follow Wilbur's progress as he grows from little runt into a large pig.
Wilbur is soon a member of the farm - the sheep, the horses, the geese and the rat Templeton. An old sheep breaks Wilbur's idyllic life when he informs him that the farmer will slaughter him come Christmas. Wilbur becomes so depressed that even the delicious slop he gets everyday does not interest him.
In the midst of this bleak scene he is approached by someone who wishes to befriend him and later help him. A tiny spider called Charlotte.Wilbur is shocked to know that Charlotte sucks blood from flies and insects. Soon, however, he warms up to her. Events that unfold later prove that Wilbur is the recipient of Charlotte's life-saving friendship.
This is book can be read by 9-12-year-olds . It can be read chapter by chapter to a young child or be savoured independently by an older one. The author writes brilliantly to bring alive seemingly mundane things to something luminous. Take for instance his passage on the swing at Mr.Zuckerman's farm.
Mr. Zukerman had the best swing in the county. It was a single long piece of heavy rope tied to the beam over the north doorway. At the bottom end of the rope was a fat knot to sit on. It was arranged so that you could swing without being pushed. You climbed a ladder to the hayloft. Then, holding the rope, you stood at the edge and looked down, and were scared and dizzy. Then you straddled the knot, so that it acted as a seat. Then you got up all your nerve, took a deep breath, and jumped. For a second you seemed to be falling on the barn floor far below, but then suddenly the rope would begin to catch you, and you would sail through the barn door going a mile a minute, with the wind whistling in your eyes and ears and hair. Then you would zoom upwards into the sky, and look up at the clouds, and the rope would twist and turn with the rope. Then you would drop down, down, down out of the sky and come sailing back into the barn almost into the hayloft, then sail out again (not quite so far this time), and then in again, then out, then in; and then you'd jump off and fall down and let somebody else try it .
This is further emphasised by Garth William's wonderful line drawings. His rendering of the county fair, the farm scenes are quite simply as brilliant as the writing.
Be forewarned; this book might make your child laugh, cry copious tears, vent against man, and question their existence. It will also open your child's eye to the teeming life, beauty, and death all around every day. The book says it's alright to ask for help. One must expect to find friends in unlikely places and sometimes in unlikely sizes.
Charlotte's Web celebrates the power of friendships and its ability to make the impossible happen. Consider it a child's first book about understanding life and death. Charlotte, unerring in her friendship, loyal to a fault and creative beyond belief is a character that will grow with your child in unexpected ways.
The book is such an eminent read because of its author E.B.White. He is credited with writing the deep truths of life with an economy of words. His love for animals and life can be seen in this book. The writing is always simple without grand words and yet the power of those words are indisputable. Charlotte's Web draws in the reader with the power of its story and its sheer beauty.
Book lending credit: Amrita Chanda; Puffin book (1971)
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