Friday, September 25, 2009

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White

Having begun homeschooling in earnest this year, we are reading aloud chapter books after lunch every day. Our first selection, which took us 3 weeks to finish, was Charlotte's Web. Even the two-year-old sat quietly (most of the time), for what two-year-old doesn't like barns and animals? Thanks to Grandma, we have the large format "Signature Edition" that is pictured, and I think the larger, color pictures helped to keep the children's interest. Even though there wasn't an illustration on every page, there was at least one or two per chapter, which gave them something to look forward to. The favorite picture was of the "Big Pig," not Uncle, but Mr. Zuckerman's dream about a giant Wilbur the day before taking him to the fair.

E. B. White is an author that I admire. For one, he lived in and loved Maine, and he seems able to capture the wonder and beauty of nature in general as only one who lives close to the land can. This edition of Charlotte's Web contains an Afterward that explains how White came to write children's literature, how he patterned Zuckerman's barn after that on his own farm, and how carefully he crafted the story - which brings me to the second reason I admire E. B. White, namely that he is an expert wordsmith. In my opinion, he often attains an ideal balance between brevity (in narrative and plot) and description (with an abundance of colorful language and carefully chosen words). Of course, that is only to be expected from one of the co-authors of The Elements of Style (THE classic text on writing well).

If you ever go to Maine with children, you must make a trip to the Maine Discovery Museum in Bangor, a children's museum where there is almost a whole floor devoted to children's books by Maine authors, including E. B. White and Robert McCloskey, and books such as Goodnight Moon and Miss Rumphius. As you ascend the stairs to this floor, you are greeted with a larger than life Wilbur, Fern, and Charlotte, bearing the apropos quotation from the closing chapter: "It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer."

Now I must decide what chapter book to read aloud next. Should we continue with E. B. White and read Stuart Little or The Trumpet of the Swan? Or try something like The Wind in the Willows or the Little House on the Prairie Series? Any suggestions for a captive audience, ages two and five?

1 comment:

Carrie said...

If I am ever again in Maine (I went once, long ago, and loved it!) I will definitely keep this in mind!