Book Response: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Book Response: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

I remember getting my first copy of Charlotte’s Web when I was in grade 1. The Christmas tree was in the living room window and I lay down right in front of it on my back with the book raised in the air. I was so excited to read it. My Dad caught on to my excitement and lay down beside me to read it aloud.

One of the first illustrations in the book is of Avery Arable. It was exciting for me to find a book where one of the characters had the same name as me. It didn’t matter whether or not his role was big or small – he had the same name!

Somehow I didn’t remember that in the first description of Avery he comes into the kitchen for breakfast before school and he is “heavily armed – an air rifle in one hand, a wooden dagger in the other.”  His sister Fern is nursing the little pig Wilbur at the table. He is jealous and wants a pig for himself.

I really enjoyed reading this book for the first time again since my childhood. I read this book for my book club and we all enjoyed it. I am amazed at E.B. White’s ability to distill truths about life for children.

"Wilbur was merely suffering the doubts and fears that often go with finding a new friend … Underneath her rather hard and cruel exterior, she had a kind heart and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end." (41)

Wilbur learns to accept Charlotte even though she is very different from him – eating a diet of bugs and living suspended in the air. When Charlotte learns of Wilbur’s fate (to be butchered in the fall), she pledges to save him and she does this by creating many beautiful webs extolling Wilbur’s virtues. She saves him from being slaughtered even though she knows that her life is about to end after she creates the sac that held her many children. Wilbur’s happiness lives on in caring for them.

A number of years before White wrote Charlotte’s Web he had his own encounter with a pig. He had purchased a pig in the spring to raise through the summer and butcher in the fall. The natural course went awry. The pig became very sick and White became intent on saving the pig. In his essay, “Death of a Pig,” White wrote of how “The pig’s lot and mine were inextricably bound now, as though the rubber tube were the silver cord. From then to the time of his death I held the pig steadily in the bowl of my mind …” He developed a relationship with the pig trying his best to save it even as its health declined each day.

So much of our own grief comes out in fiction.  Stories give us a chance to make things right. Out of White’s painful experience comes a beautiful story of friendship.

 

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About Avery Peters

Sharing stories. Sharing food.

I express my creativity in the kitchen. My inspiration comes from being outside—in the forest, on the farm, by the ocean, or going to the farmers’ market. I love to share food with family and friends.