Is Charlotte’s Web the best book ever?

I’m reading Charlotte’s Web to my six year old daughter, and I am absolutely stunned by how beautiful this book is. It is poetry from start to finish.

In case you forgot, here’s the first line:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”

Here are the last two lines, impossible for me to read without getting chills:

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a writer. Charlotte was both.

This book is a literary feast. Not only is it about a writer and writing, but the language and word play throughout are Shakespearean. Charlotte’s Web is full of reversals and symmetry, perhaps the most moving (and central) one is that we spend the book worrying about Wilbur’s violent death and at the end, it is Charlotte who dies peacefully.

Speaking of death, Charlotte’s Web tackles this scary and complicated reality in an authentic, touching way, that kids can understand without getting freaked out. That is, when reading Charlotte’s Web, kids experience their emotions about death in a safe way.

And of course, the book features two of the best female characters in kidlit: Charlotte and Fern.

Somehow, I missed reading this book to my older daughter. If you haven’t read it recently, you’ve got pick it up. It will make your day. My sister who is an English professor lent me an amazing edition called The Annotated Charlotte’s Web (pictured above) that is full of footnotes, letters from E.B. White, Hamlet analogies, and notes about Garth Williams, the illustrator, as well. It’s fascinating to read.

Reel Girl rates Charlotte’s Web ***HHH***

18 thoughts on “Is Charlotte’s Web the best book ever?

  1. I have crystal clear memories of my 3rd grade teacher reading _CW_ aloud to us in class; the passages describing a child’s freedom during summer have stuck with me for over 40 years. One point worth noting: _Charlotte’s Web _was only a runner-up for the1953 Newbery award ; it lost out to _Secret of the Andes_ (don’t worry if you’ve never heard of it; nobody else has either). I always remind parents of this when they insist on getting only the “best, award winning” books for their kids.

  2. I’ve just ordered it! For some reason I didn’t read it when I was young so I am looking forward to reading it to my eldest.

      • So we’re all really enjoying Charlotte’s Web and we’re nearly finished. One thing that bothers me though is that he’s written a love interest in for an 8 year old. Seriously?

        • and that Fern loses interest in Wilbur for Henry Fussy, I know! But I do love the chapter with the doctor and how Mrs. Arabel says that Avery is fine when if Fern was catching frogs etc she’d be concerned.

          • On that point, I do think that Mrs Arable is unsympathetically written. At the Fair when it’s time to claim the special prize she starts obsessing about her hair. But I suppose that might be authentic, and Mrs Zuckerman doesn’t do that, so the women are written in a variety of ways.

  3. My husband and our daughter (she’s 6, too) just finished our family’s second go-through of this unmatchable read. As someone mentioned above, for a real treat listen to the audiobook version read by E. B. White himself. And there’s also the recent book about the story behind the story, Micheal Sims’s The Story of Charlotte’s Web: E.B. White’s Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic.

    We are a little bit in love with Mr. White over here! <3

  4. I loved this book as a child and reread it many many times. I haven’t gone back to it as an adult partially because I’ve been burned before when returning to a couple of childhood favorites. (For example, the racism and Imperialism throughout The Secret Garden went over my head when I was a child and it completely soured my fond memories of the book when I reread it as an adult.)

    I’ll be glad to pick up this annotated version and I’ll look forward to reading it with my son when he gets a little older. I’m so glad to hear this will still be a wonderful read, even with my adult perspective.

  5. I have been meaning to blog, too, about how wonderful Charlotte’s Web is. I’ve been reading it to my four and a half year old (several times through) this summer, and on a road trip, we listened to the audio CD of E.B. White reading it. (Which was just wonderful, too.) When E.B. White read the part where Charlotte dies, my daughter started sobbing, and continued inconsolable for awhile. I’d read it to her several times, but she said, “He read it different.”

    I’m planning to use Charlotte’s Web in a course I teach: it’s a great example to look at in terms of the craft of fiction.

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