We're heading out soon for school vacation week and this most classic of children's chapter books, Charlotte's Web, is definitely coming with us. I love this book in such a deep way that I wonder if it's some kind of blasphemy to even pack it in the same suitcase as my Star Sisters books? Or maybe some of its pure genius will rub off on my fictional little ladies mid-flight? Or maybe I really just need to stop the insanity and start packing for my three real live little ladies who will never forgive me if I forget their bathing suits because I was obsessing over such crazy book things.
Anyway, I became reacquainted with Charlotte's Web because my oldest daughter is reading it with her kindergarten class and came home asking if we could also read it together at night. It was a proud, proud moment (thank you, Mrs. K!). So we started in that very night. And I had forgotten that the book opens right up with Mr. Arable heading off with a large ax to kill one day old baby Wilbur. (Just in case a kid misses the message in the text, page two features a picture of Fern trying to wrestle this very large ax from her even larger father.) As I read all this talk of killing and slaughter, I kept close tabs on my daughter's body language, expecting maybe some squirm of concern or a tightening of her shoulders. But she was totally calm, which is the exact opposite of how she reacts if she sees something scary in a movie. For me, this drove home the power of great writing. When the writing is great, kids are totally transported. They recognize that they're in another world, that Mr. Arable's deadly ax wheeling is happening far, far away. Maybe it's because reading allows them keep some control, allows them to imagine the scene in a way that's safe for them. I don't know. But I experienced the same thing when I was reading to my girls about the death of a mom in My Happy Life, another amazing children's chapter book that I've blogged about before. I was worried my kids would be rattled, but they were fine.
Bottom line: reading Charlotte's Web to my oldest babe as she snuggles in close is precious. E.B. White is an amazing writer who brings a barn of animals to life in a beautiful way. Thank you, E.B. White. Quite a gift you've given the world.