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Charlotte's Web - E.B. White

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Genre: Junior Books / Author: E.B. White / Edition: New Ed / Paperback / 176 Pages / Book is published 2003-09-25 by Puffin Books

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      24.04.2011 18:35
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      A well spun yarn of friendship and love...

      I like my children to read as many books on as many subjects as possible, which is not an easy task at all! It's hard to drag them from their Alex Riders and Jeremy Strongs. But a few years back, I managed this when Borgette chose the children's classic, Charlotte's Web.

      We read it over a series of nights between us, with me reading parts and her reading others (this was in the days when she was learning to read, and was not the fluent reader she is today, at 11). We both found it quite engrossing and sweet and well deserved of all the praise it received over the years.

      Eudora Welty of the New York Times wrote, "As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done."

      Charlotte is a barn spider who befriends a pig called Wilbur. The pig belongs to a young girl called Fern Arable, who saved the pig from being killed when it was born as it was a runt... she did this after begging and pleading with her father. The pig went to live at her uncle's and she would visit it every day. However, the life of a pig is not a long one, and there was always the threat of Wilbur being slaughtered for food. Charlotte takes pity on the pig and plots ways in which the pig should be saved from slaughter, such as spinning messages on her web for others to see, such as 'SOME PIG!'

      Other animals in the barn play their parts too, there is a goose and a lamb, but most memorably is a greedy and dirty rat called Templeton. He is quite a selfish creature who helps out, but only if paid with bits of food. However, there is a softer side to the rodent too.


      # E B White #

      Elwyn Brooks White was born in New York in 1899 and died1985. In 1978, he won an honorary Pulitzer Prize for his work as a whole.

      His other books are:

      The Lady is Cold - Poems by E.B.W. (1929)
      Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do (1929, with James Thurber)
      One Man's Meat (1942)
      Stuart Little (1945)
      Here Is New York (1949)
      The Second Tree From The Corner (1954)
      The Elements of Style (with William Strunk, Jr.) (1959)
      The Trumpet of the Swan (1970)
      Essays of E.B. White (1977)


      # Thoughts #

      Charlotte's Web is a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you have children who are young enough, I recommend this to you. It is a gentle, but clever read and as I have said, very sweet. Charlotte and Wilbur are true friends and I guess this is what it is all about, friendship. Watch out, though, it is a sad ending!

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        15.03.2011 14:46
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        A timeless classic for children

        We all have books which we remember fondly from childhood - I still love Dr Seuss books for instance. My favourite book from childhood is, however "Charlotte's Web" by E B White.

        I can still recall having this book read to me when I was nine years old in school and being captivated by the characters, the story and the illustrations. My twin sister bought the book with her pocket money and we both coloured the pictures in. She still has this book nearly 40 years on and it's a book we can both share a time and a place of our childhood through.

        One of the greatest joys of being a parent is being able to introduce books you enjoyed to your own children and I was fortunate enough to have a daughter who loved the book as much as I did. We were, I admit, helped by the 2006 film version of the book which was a reasonably faithful adaptation, but I have very happy memories of both myself and my late husband reading this book to our daughter and then her reading it herself.

        I recently decided to re-read "Charlotte's Web" again after spying it on my daughter's bookshelf. The paperback edition she has is one I bought for her in America and the illustrations by Garth Williams have been delicately turned from black and white line drawings into colour illustrations thanks to some well thought out use of watercolours by Rosemary Wells. I also bought my daughter a large A4 size hardback edition of the book which retains the original black and white drawings. This was the copy my husband and I always used when reading the book aloud to our daughter when she was small.

        ~~The Author~~

        Elwyn Brooks White, who found fame as E B White, was born in New York state in 1899 and began his career as a journalist.

        After marrying in 1929 White moved to Maine and lived on a farmyard there. It was on this farmyard that he observed the interaction between animals and their behaviour. This led to his first childrens' book, "Stuart Little" in 1945, followed by "Charlotte's Web" in 1952. Four years prior to this White had failed to save a sick pig he had bought to be fattened for the butcher and it's generally considered that "Charlotte's Web" represents a retrospective attempt at saving a pig.

        White maintained a general level of anonymity in his lifetime - the farm he owned which could have been turned into a tourist attraction in someone else's hands remains anonymous to this day. White continued to write into the 1970s - including working on the writing guide "The Elements of Style" - and passed away from Alzheimers in 1985.

        ~~The Plot~~

        Fern Arable lives on a farm with her mother, father and brother Avery. One day Fern discovers her father is going to kill a weak pig which is the runt of the litter on the farm. Outraged, Fern stops him, promising to rear the pig herself.

        She names her baby pig Wilbur and hand rears him until he is too big for the house. At this point she sells her pig to her Uncle Homer, who has a barn which can accommodate Wilbur on his farm a short walk away.

        Wilbur makes friends with the other animals in the barn, including a verbose and highly intelligent spider called Charlotte but one day discovers he is being fattened up for the butcher. Wilbur falls into a deep despair - he loves life and doesn't want to die - but how can a pig be saved from the chop?

        ~~My Thoughts~~

        Over the years I have often wondered why "Charlotte's Web" has remained with me and after reading it again I think it's quite simply because it's a very good story filled with well formed and well described characters which is beautifully written.

        White was an expert in the English language and it shows here. In this book he introduces children to realities of life including birth and death without being alarmist. Nor does he sugar coat realities however and this makes "Charlotte's Web" a rich volume for children to aborb, discuss and learn from.

        What is particularly good about "Charlotte's Web" are the characters he creates to tell the story. Wilbur is an excitable and incredibly immature pig. This is as it should be - he's a young spring pig who having been saved from the axe by Fern appreciates everything life throws at him. Wilbur experiences great changes in his moods throughout the book, from great joy to terrible despair and frequently he sobs real tears. Through an adults' eyes it easy to dismiss Wilbur as irritating but he's actually incredibly genuine and sweet - which is what you need in a chief protagonist.

        The barnyard is beautifully described too and we are introduced to geese who say everything in triplicate, an old sheep who isn't quite as wise as first glimpse would suggest, a cunning, greedy and selfish rat called Templeton and of course a spider named Charlotte A Cavatica who is destined to do all she can to save Wilbur's life.

        The human characters are charming too - from Fern who we witness growing from an eight year old girl who can understand what the animals are saying to one another to a girl who has learned to quite like boys. Her brother Avery is a typical awful young boy, playing with frogs and tormenting spiders but is also incredibly realistic. Uncle Homer and Lurvy, his dim witted hired help on the farm are displayed as simple country folk without the reader feeling the author is being patronising. Lastly the quite wonderful Doctor Dorian, who only appears in one chapter, is the epitome of what you would want your family doctor to be like - imaginative and logical all at once and a pure delight to read about.

        I think I have yet to read a childrens' book which is so evocatively descriptive as "Charlotte's Web". White is able to bring his characters to life without being excessively wordy, but the illustrations undoubtedly help too. Garth Williams' contribution to "Charlotte's Web" shouldn't be ignored as he helps bring the animals to life and helps children imagine in their mind's eye what the author is trying to say.

        There is a wonderful scene in the barnyard where Fern and Avery are playing on a rope swing and as someone who frequently played on rope swings as a child the scene resonated me with me immediately. What I didn't notice in childhood was White's ability to write sentences in such a manner as to mimic the motion of the swing in this section. This made reading this part out loud to my daughter an absolute delight as it's when you read out loud that you really notice this in particular - especially if you are an old ham when reading to your child as I am.

        As well as touching upon life and death, the abiding theme which runs throughout "Charlotte's Web" is friendship. The bond between Wilbur and Charlotte is particularly strong but there's the grudging relationship between Templeton the rat and Wilbur to consider too. Templeton is both repugnant and deeply funny and despite initial concerns that he is not a character children will warm to, they invariably do - especially in the scenes at the Fair.

        White also uses the book to gently poke fun at the advertising industry he formerly worked in himself - at the end of the day Charlotte is a copywriter or advertising executive as she uses her incredible skill to tell the world what a special pig Wilbur is. White only briefly allows the animals to consider that whilst the world thinks of Wilbur as special, it's actually the spider who is special. This is a smart move on White's part in my opinion as it enables children to form that opinion for themselves far before he raises the issue.

        ~~Finally~~

        "Charlotte's Web" is a book that even today can make me both laugh and cry. More than either of these things however it gives me a wonderful warm glow whenever I see it or think of it.

        This is a book that is both a joy to read and a joy to have read to you. It's a book that quite simply seems to stay with people in a way few others do.

        Due to the themes contained within I would suggest this is best kept for children aged about 8 and up - any younger and they miss some of the things White is trying to say and perhaps won't ask questions about the way humans behave around animals and how animals behave around each other.

        And that's the thing I remember from my own childhood reading "Charlotte's Web" - asking my teacher questions and wanting to hear the answers. To my absolute delight I found my daughter did the same when I read it to her. That's what you want a childrens' book to do and I can't imagine I will ever live in a house without a copy of this book.

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          27.02.2010 02:13
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          A really super childrens book

          I love a good childrens story, and having a 6 year old in the family gives me a good chance to enjoy the story too. Charlottes Web is new to me, but has all the elements necessary for a good read, it has an interesting plot, drama, sadness, and a triumphant ending.

          Wilbur the pig is the runt of the litter, he is destined for the axe, but is saved from this fate by the farmers daughter, Fern. Even then his future is not secure, because although he moves to comfortable surroundings, with a nice pile of manure to sleep on, he is actually being fattened for slaughter.He is to be killed and made into smoked bacon, and is informed about this fact by a fellow animal, the old sheep who has seen pigs come - and go.Wilbur is naturally devastated by this news, however he does have an unlikely but brave and loyal friend Charlotte the Spider who is watching over him from her web high up in the barn. How on earth can Charlotte save Wilbur?

          It may seem that these themes of threatened death and disaster are a bit harsh and scary for a young child, but I don't think so. When they are incorporated into an exciting or funny story in a safe environment children are fine. Hence the popularity of Roald Dahl or nursery rhymes.

          Wilbur lives in an old barn. I love the descriptions of this building , and its contents, for example the swing. What a swing! "this swing was the best swing in the county.It was a 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."You had to climb a ladder to the hayloft."Then, holding the rope, you stood at the edge and looked down, and were scared and dizzy." You straddle the knot and jump."For a second you seem to be falling to 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.""Then you would zoom upwards into the sky, and the rope would twist, and you would twist and turn with the rope." Then you would sail down, and up again as the swng gradually lost momentum, and you could easily jump off . Wow , what a swing! Mothers were worried but no child fell off as children are better at clinging on than we think they will be.

          The barn is a lovely , peaceful, but not luxurious home for Wilbur. A spider that eats flies isn't everyones idea of an ideal friend, but indeed she is the best friend in the world.

          The story was written by E. B.White, an American, born in 1899, died in 1985. The world is changing fast, and nothing stays the same for 2 minutes, but this is still a story that children can read, chuckle to, and enjoy, a classic. And in our house its been consumer tested, and approved by our 6 year old. The book has 22 chapters, each 2, 3, or 4 pages, so can be easily read with a child bit by bit. I think its a good buy for parents, or grandparents to enjoy with the children.

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            18.04.2007 09:37
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            Wilbur the pig learns about love, loss, and growing up with friends Fern and Charlotte.

            While many people may be familiar with E.B. White's stories, Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, thanks to recent blockbuster films, they may not be aware that these stories were indeed books first. They are well worth the read, for no matter how good a film is, the books themselves have subtle messages that cannot be translated into cinematic experiences. E.B. White's prose alone is something that would be a tragedy for any person to miss, and the books speak well to the hearts of children, teens, and adults, earning themselves a place in literature rather than mere popular fiction. This book has won two major literary distinctions, the Newberry Honors distinction in 1963 and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1970.

            Charlotte's Web itself is a masterpiece of a story. It is the tragio-comic story of a young pig named Wilbur and focuses on his relationship with the young girl Fern and the barn spider, Charlotte. Fern is the daughter of a farmer and she rescues Wilbur from the axe when he is born a runt and rejected by his mother. Raising him on a bottle and cosseting the baby pig, Wilbur grows up to be a fine specimen of a pig thanks to Fern's care and attention. Unfortunately, Wilbur is then sold to Fern's uncle, Homer Zuckerman and being meat farmers this means he is destined ultimately to become bacon, sausages and chops. Enter Charlotte, the barn spider, who comes up with several ideas to help Wilbur evade his fate. Thanks to her rather comic but successful ideas, Wilbur becomes a bit of a celebrity as the TERRIFIC pig and he gets to live happily ever ... almost. For the story is not merely about Fern and the near loss of a her beloved pet pig, it is still a story of loss and the rites of passage that friends endure with that loss.

            This theme of time passing and change are woven throughout the book, setting the stage for the ultimate passing of the spider. It is done subtly, rather than overtly, with beautifully written passages such as, "The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days of the whole year - the days when summer is changing into fall - the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change." . It is an eternal message, one of changing seasons of the year and the seasons we pass through in life, and a lesson gently taught though tinged in sadness, but marked with hope and joy as new life is born from the old, and the legacy of that which came before is passed on to the next generation.

            Charlotte's Web also has a second message and it is also a truth that is a lesson well learned; the lesson that a true hero is likely to be found in the unlikeliest of places and be the most ordinary seeming person. From the young child Fern who saves Wilbur from death to the spider Charlotte, the ugly and very small barn spider, to the scruffy and often disagreeable rat Templeton, the reader is reminded that it is often the ordinary person who makes all the difference of the world, and that small efforts can have big consequences.

            I first read this book when I was 7 years old, after watching the 1973 animated feature film on television. I found this book to be an enjoyable read then, and it was a book I reread again and again, including once at school, as this book came to be included in most American schools for children in the 3rd grade. the reading level is suitable for ages 8 and up, though a proficient younger child could read and understand the book with little difficulty. Indeed, it was with great joy that my 5 1/2 year old daughter expressed a desire to read the book before seeing the film, and she read a short chapter to herself in bed each night before bed, and told me all about it excitedly at breakfast. This is a true classic in the sense that boys and girls across the generations can read this book, enjoy it, learn from it, and carry the lessons from it into their own lives. For teens and adults, this book is a pleasant way to while away a few hours and come away satisfied as well as amused.

            This book is easily available in its original style edition, complete with the lovely Garth Williams illustrations inside and out (highly recommended) and as a movie tie in, which seems to be an effort to sell more merchandise related to the film, and is the book with the cover art taken from the recent feature film. You can pick up a copy of this from £3.59 for the original style edition on Amazon and are likely to to find it at similiar prices in high street book stores. Home educating parents may also be interested to kow that there is a teacher's guide to using Charlotte's Web also available and Amazon has it priced at £4.66.

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              02.09.2003 00:04
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              Hello, my name is Abbie and this is my first review of many – so please be kind. My review is on the brilliant children’s book, ‘Charlottes Web’ by E.B.White. I first read this book when I was ten years old and we were reading it in class. I later bought it from the ‘book club’ magazine for an amazing £4.99. It is now battered and ‘dog-eared’, the pages are the colour of aging parchment and it never leaves my bedside table. The book is of the puffin collection and has the brilliant illustrations of Garth Williams throughout the book, which really brings the story to life. ‘Charlottes Web’, is also the winner of the Laura Ignalls Wilder Award. The story is based on the life of a little runt piglet. He was born on the Arable farm and was meant to be murdered when he was born, because of him being the runt of the litter. Fern, the 8 year old daughter of the Arable’s, thinks that this is ‘the worst injustice’ she has ever heard of. Because of this her father allows her to raise the pig as her own, until he is big enough to be sold. Fern calls the pig Wilbur, and eventually sells him to her uncle, Homer Zuckerman, so that she can still visit Wilbur as often as she likes. Fern doesn’t have the time to visit Wilbur every day and he grows lonely and befriends the a spider, Charlotte. As Wilbur grows bigger, the Zuckerman’s start to lick their lips at the sight of him as they imagine him being their Christmas dinner. The book is divided into 22 chapters, where we see Fern and Charlotte try to save Wilbur’s bacon. I would give this story 10/10 for the imaginative storyline, and the characters which E.B.White brings into the adventure with amazing description. I would recommend the book to children aged 7-14years.

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                25.07.2001 18:56
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                What a deprived childhood I must have had, for I cannot remember reading any book back then, that was ever as enthralling and enchanting as 'Charlottes Web'. Of course I had heard of it, just never read it. So when I came across it in the book store, I decided to read it. O.K, at nearly 32 years old, you may be thinking I'm a little too old for children books, but not so. To read a book like this was like a breath of fresh air, and even had a profound effect on me, as I shall explain later. So what's it all about? Fern Arable is a little girl who lives with her parents and her brother Avery on a farm somewhere in America. The book opens with Mr Arable going off to the 'hoghouse' with an axe, to 'do away' with the runt of a litter of pigs born during the previous night. Of course when Fern gets news of this, we just know she will have to do something about it. In this way we know Fern from the very first page, and we too feel her anguish at the unfairness of the situation. Of course we needn't have worried, for the pig is saved; "Fern came slowly down the stairs. Her eyes were red from crying. As she approached her chair, the carton wobbled, and there was a scratching noise. Fern looked at her father. Then she lifted the lid of the carton. There inside, looking at her, was the newborn pig. It was a white one. The morning light shone through it's ears, turning them pink." Fern takes her newly aquired responsibilities as foster mother very seriously, and a great bonding between the two follows. We get to know the little pig, whom Fern names Wilbur, and as the story continues, the spotlight shifts from Fern to Wilbur. When Wilbur is five weeks old, Mr Arable tells Fern that although she has had her fun raising a pig, it is time to sell him on. Luckily Mrs Arable suggests Ferns uncle, Homer Zuckerman, takes the pig on and continues to raise him. Hooray, we shout, Wilbur is saved. Of co
                urse Homer's long term plans will be to fatten Wilbur up and then, well I really would rather not say! Wilbur settles in to life in his new pig pen, and we share his emotions as he meets all the new animals that live at the farm. Fern visits him daily, and sits quietly by his pen, listening to all the animals talk. We get to know the geese, the sheep, and a rat called Templeton. Fern cannot spend all her time with Wilbur, as she of course is only a little girl and must go to school. Wilbur pines for her, and feels lonely and depressed, you see Wilbur may be a little pink pig, but in effect, he is a little boy, alone in a world that he doesn't really understand. He is trusting and friendly to any that he meets, even Templeton, who is selfish and does nothing if it does not involve getting anything for himself. By now, the bond between Wilbur and his beloved Fern begins to take back stage, and we see that our Wilbur is in need of a special friend, someone he can really rely on, and of course along comes Charlotte. "Salutations!" said the voice. Wilbur jumped to his feet. "Salu-what? He cried. "Salutations!" Repeated the voice. Yes Charlotte is a very articulate spider, a very clever spider, but aren't spiders yucky? Wilbur wonders the same thing. "You mean you eat flies?" gasped Wilbur. "Certainly. Flies, bugs, grasshoppers, choice beetles, moths, butterflies, tasty cockroaches, gnats, midgets, daddy-long-legs, centipedes, mosquitoes, crickets-anything that is careless enough to get caught in my web. I have to live, don't I?" Wilbur is disgusted to hear how Charlotte drinks their blood, yet heartened to hear that she anaesthetises them first so that they don't feel anything. As time goes on, Wilbur accepts that Charlotte is very different to him, yet learns to respect her, and indeed rely on her. She becomes like a mother to him, and we se
                e the importance of having a true friend to rely on, to look out for us, to respect and care for. The book continues through highs and lows, although don't expect me to tell you anymore about the storyline. I will warn you however that keeping a box of tissues near by could be a good move, because you see you come to really know the main characters, they become like real people, of course in an anthropomorphic kind of way, and you care what happens to them. My kids are 2 and 8 months, so I'm just going to pop this one on the book shelf and save it for later on. I can't wait to share this one with them, and I suggest if you have kids you run out and buy this one or get it from your local library, it's a treasure. As for the book helping me, well I have to confess to being an arachnophobic, not a serious one, I just tend to pass out a little bit if caught unawares by a juicy, knuckled spider running across the living room floor. The other day my husband asked me to fetch something from the garden shed, a task that usually fills me with fear. As I opened the creaking door, I was confronted by spider's webs, and then there in front of me, ahh, a spider. But to my surprise I found myself saying out loud, "It's Charlotte!" Well, I'm still not exactly fearless around spiders, but having read this book I have a lot more respect for them. Perhaps this book should be read by all arachnophobes! If you don't have kids, don't be put off, give yourself a treat and read this book, it will remind you just how good children's literature really is.

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                  16.07.2001 07:04

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                  This book and the video you can buy are brilliant. Charlotte is a spider who befriends willbourgh the pig who is a new arrival on the farm but wilb is for the chop and charlottes cungers up some excellent plans to help keep him in the pen and not the pan. This story will make you laugh,cry and sigh all the time and kids just love it it is an old story and still one of the best kiddies books i've ever read. The video version is great and the pictures are fantastic but again if you are liable to cry at sad parts then make sure you got plenty of andrex and don't let the little ones see ya blabbing they wil take the mick believe me. Give this story a go makes a good bedtime read for kids and if they fall asleep i'll gaurentee that you read on saying to yourself maybe their not asleep yet. I've already said to much so get the book or film and sit back and enjoy.

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                  26.06.2001 21:44
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                  I first read Charlottes Web as a child, it was probably one of the first books I read from cover to cover and it has stayed in my mind ever since. I have read a further three times over the years (all as an adult) and have never tired of it. It is a fantastic tale of the relationship between a young farmers daughter called Fern and a young pig she is given by her father to look after. The young piglet is a runt and not expected to live, but with Ferns tender loving care he not only survives, but thrives. She calls him Wilbur. For then on the book takes on a fantasy like tale, involving lots of farm animals and especially a spider called Charlotte. She befriends Wilbur and when they find out that he is to be slaughtered later in the year, she sets out to prove that Wilbur is no ordinary pig and deserves to live. The antics that Charlotte gets up to will amaze you. She takes to using her web to spell out messages. Ferns learns how to understand what all the animals are saying and spends more and more time with them, much to her parents concern. I will not elaborate too much on the story as you will want to read it for yourself. I have always been afraid of spiders, and have never really liked them, but I warmed to Charlotte immediately. The author E B White, gives her a loving and kindly nature that you cannot help but like. Wilbur on the other hand comes across as I would expect a young pig to do if he could talk. He is mischievous, funny and very cheeky. This is a superb book, one I will never get fed up with reading, however old I get. If you have kids, get this book and let them read it – or read it to them. But before you let them get their dirty little mitts on it – read it yourself first. You you’ll be delighted by it, I promise.

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                    09.02.2001 04:35

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                    There is no doubt about it - this is a classic book. Having to teach what makes good writing good, EB White's tale of a lonely pig certainly makes the grade. The basic plot is that Wilbur, a runt, is left on the Zuckerman's farm to be fattened up for sale, until his best friend Charlotte (a spider) comes along and gives him a reprieve. The writing is just so crisp, and wonderfully crafted, with the animals speaking, and the pace being so in keeping. I read this to my clas of 8-10 year olds and they were spellbound (and believe me, they're tough nuts to crack). Even if you feel hardened against the raw emotion of children's stories as an adult, Charlotte's Web is simply absorbing, and must rate as a modern-day classic. Incidentally, Dick King-Smith's "Babe - The Sheep-Pig" has NOTHING on this, and the film of Charlotte's Web is a travesty. As if pigs would speak in American accents!

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                    20.12.2000 00:39
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                    Did I ever tell you what a lucky little reader I was? Well I was. I come from good bookworming stock you know – parents, grandparents, there were piles of books all over every house I spent any time in as a child. But I was even luckier. My mother had her dream job and mine too – she worked for Penguin Books. Every Friday she headed off for the pulp section and brought home books, LOADS of books. Overruns, miscut covers, those Penguin people seemed to cast off perfectly good volumes all the time. So you see what a lucky little reader I was – my books were both plentiful and free. I had, actually I still have, the largest collection of Puffin paperbacks you ever did see. Oops, sorry, I got side-tracked there. I was just having a little five minutes of nostalgia about Fridays at home when I was small. Fridays meant books. A generation later and Fridays in this home are welcomed by my children for the early evening trips to the cinema. The film a few weeks ago was ‘Stuart Little’ the talking mouse/child. That’s what reminded me. Oh, sorry again, I haven’t reminded YOU yet, have I? It reminded me of ‘Charlotte’s Web’. It was E B White who wrote ‘Stuart Little’, the story of a baby who resembled a mouse so much that “in fact he was a mouse”. But White’s masterpiece is not ‘Stuart Little’, or indeed the sentimental and, dare I say it, the pretty awful film made from it; it is ‘Charlotte’s Web’. Surely you know that, surely EVERYONE knows that! Well, those of us whose mothers worked for Penguin do anyway! So after seeing the film of ‘Stuart Little’ we made ‘Charlotte’s Web’ the next volume on the chapter-a-night bedtime story list. I’ve still got it like I’ve still got all those other pulp copies thirty years down the line. Anyway, finally – to the story, &
                    #8216;At last!’ I hear you cry. Fern, a farmer’s child, persuades her father to give her the runt pig he is about to butcher. Fern names her pet ‘Wilbur’ and feeds him up with milk from her doll’s nursing bottle. She is so successful that Wilbur is soon far from the runt of the litter. As he gains girth her parents firmly banish him back to the farmyard where he belongs and it is here that the fantasy begins. Wilbur starts to have some fun and makes friends with the other animals. Fern spends long periods of time watching Wilbur daily and discovers that she understands what the animals are saying to each other. Within Fern’s everyday world a little pool of magic exists creating a reality all of its very own. Of course, her parents don’t believe her. They start to worry. In fact they worry so much that they call in the doctor to have a look at their ‘worrying’ daughter who lives they think in a fantasy world. Of course she is, but it’s not the sort of fantasy for we ‘real world’ limited adults. My children looked at each other and laughed at the thought of how wrong Fern’s parents were and how right she was. ‘Shows how much you grown-ups know’ – just the sort of thing they love. Back in the farmyard Wilbur has learned about the autumn butchering and his own unfortunate role in it. He doesn’t want to die. Help is at hand though, for Charlotte the spider befriends him and promises to help save his bacon. (Oops, sorry, but you must have known I’d get that horrid pun in somehow.). Her various devices for doing this are unique and exceedingly funny. She begins to weave words about him in her web; words that will call attention to young Wilbur in a very special way. She weaves words like ‘SOME PIG’ and ‘TERRIFIC’. Wilbur is so full of admiration that he tries, hilariously and unsuccessfully, to emulate he
                    r with a string tied to his tail. As Charlotte weaves her words so is the magic for Wilbur woven. Word spreads and Wilbur becomes a special little pig and a famous little pig. He’s a miracle. As the big day, market day, approaches what will happen to Wilbur who faints when he hears the farmer talking of ham and bacon? And what does the future hold for Charlotte, her egg sac and her future babies? Soon, so soon, the day arrives and Wilbur must go alone, without Charlotte who must stay in the barn and take care of her precious egg sac. Just in case you’ve not read it I won’t tell you what happens but I will warn you. If you do buy ‘Charlotte’s Web’ for your children read it to yourself first and see; especially if you’re prone to tears like me. I think ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is a fantasy universally acclaimed by adults and universally loved by children. Wilbur is a true pig – he relishes slops and good soft muck. But he is also a child, lonely, wanting friends, turning to Charlotte for understanding, reassurance, entertainment, love and most importantly a solution to his most urgent problem. Wilbur is no hero; he’s a frightened little boy. But he is obedient and tries his best to live up to all the good things Charlotte weaves about him in her web. All the readers and listeners I’ve known have responded to White’s simple direct writing and the both the humour and the pathos in his story. No one read ‘Charlotte’s Web’ aloud to me. I read it myself as a very little girl and it was the first book ever to make me cry. I’ve never forgotten it. Like tears at those cheesy films when you’re older I can remember crying for poor Charlotte; so brave, so generous, so funny. I’m not sure any book that’s made me cry since has ever had quite such an impact and I’m so hopelessly weepy that I promise you there have be
                    en a fair few literary tears since those first, childish ones. Somehow though, even then, I think I realised that it was all right and things were just as they were meant to be for Charlotte. I still think of that little spider’s hundreds of babies and I still remember being six or seven and shedding the first ‘laughing tears’ of my short life. When I finished reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’ this last time round, this time aloud, and this time for my own two children, I almost cried again for the umpteenth time. Conor said, ‘Mummy, did Charlotte’s babies REALLY fly away in the wind?’ and I looked at the pair of them staring out of the window, thinking about the spiders webs they’d seen in the garden. You see? They were realising too. Ok, I’ll be honest, five minutes later they were engaged in sniper fire with the hoover extensions and destroying all in their path as usual, but they’ve asked loads of questions since and we’re half way through reading the book for a second time and at their request. So I’m sure they did understand. The thing to remember about fantasy, especially children’s fantasy, is that it’s deeply rooted in reality. It didn’t start out in story form; it’s older than that, probably as old as anything is. In the fantasy that is ‘Charlotte’s Web’ magically, through the funny and endearing partnership of a talking pig and a talking spider the basic truths of life are set out for your children. Fantasy helps children to understand reality even as it provides them with a flight into funnier and more exciting worlds. It helps them face reality but with imagination, creativity and spontaneity of thought. Oh, good grief, enough already Jill. All I really wanted to say was ‘Look, even if you haven’t got children go and read ‘Charlotte’s Web’ and if you have read it to them too!
                    ’ Buy it. I’m off :)

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                    A young girl called Fern joins forces with a friendly spider called Charlotte to save her pet pig's bacon from the farmer.