Charlotte’s Web: A Life-Giving Classic That Will Make the World Feel Like a Miracle

Charlotte’s Web | Author: E.B. White | Genre: Children’s Fiction

Paperback: 184 | Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers (April 10, 2012) | ISBN: 0739477072

Rating: 5/5

In case you don’t know, I coordinate an after school program for elementary refugee students. I literally get paid to play games in order to help kids practice English. Amazing, right? So several weeks ago, when I was in the trenches of planning for the school year, I found myself following a rabbit trail of looking at children’s books. When I finally found my way back, I had a new Good Reads list with 40 titles on it. I call it “Kiddos.”

One of these titles? Charlotte’s Web. I realized I had never read this classic before, and knew that had to change. So when I was at the library just a couple days later with an adult ESL student, I modeled the check-out process with none other than Charlotte’s Web.

I had no idea when I picked this book off the shelf how endearing Charlotte would become to me, or how Wilbur would soften my heart. I didn’t expect for Templeton to frustrate me, and to giggle at Wilbur and Charlotte’s interactions in their friendship. The book was incredible, weaving together truths of friendship and mysterious kindness, and to all my adult friends – I have to recommend it to you. It will take you only a few hours to read, and you’ll be richer for it.

“Wilbur ate heartily. He planned to leave half a noodle and a few drops of milk for Templeton. Then he remembered that the rat had been useful in saving Charlotte’s life, and that Charlotte was trying to save his life. So he left a whole noodle, instead of a half.”

I have to recommend it because it will make you giggle. The quirks of the farm animals and their interactions, the human characters’ responses to Charlotte’s web, the comments of Wilbur – it’s all just as enjoyable for children as adults. It’s an innocent kind of humor that offers a childlike humor and wonder, filling you with an easy comfort that honestly, you’ve probably missed and not even realized it.

And in all the humor, I didn’t expect to see life as a miraculous wonder. There’s a particular scene where Mrs. Arable goes to the doctor to inquire whether or not she should be concerned about her daughter, Fern’s, hanging around the barn with all the animals. It’s comical, a bit awkard, but also inspiring. The doctor’s response is ingenius. He simply makes the point that life is miracle, and that the spiders know how to make a web without being taught is incredible. And I think that Dr. Dorian’s entire point in the scene is this: life is a miracle.

Don’t get so caught up in yourself that you forget to look up and around. There is an entire world buzzing around you – but you’re missing it when you live in fear and retort criticism of it all. The world is vastly more intricate than you or I can see; we are not the only way of living. Humanity is not the only way of life. There are creatures and critters crawling about, a sky hanging above, a solid ground below. It’s wonderful, really, and to all my adult friends: it’s okay to live in wonder of it all, paying attention and looking for the miracles all around.

“Wilbur blushed. ‘But I’m not terrific, Charlotte. I’m just about average for a pig.’ ‘You’re terrific as far as I’m concerned,’ replied Charlotte, sweetly, ‘and that’s what counts. You’re my best friend, and I think you’re sensational. Now stop arguing and go get some sleep!’”

I didn’t expect to learn about friendship. True friendship uplifts, encourages, and even renames. We all need someone to see us for who we are, even we don’t feel it. Unconditional love and friendship looks us at us, in all our dirt and fear, and say, “Even so, I think you are fantastic.”

Love like this doesn’t expect us to come perfect, but is eager to welcome us despite our shortcomings. It assures us that we are valuable simply for existing – no prerequisites needed. We’re here and that’s miraculous. We can rest in that. We can also call that out in others.

“Ever since the spider had befriended him, he had done his best to live up to his reputation. When’s Charlotte’s web said SOME PIG, Wilbur had tried hard to look like some pig. When Charlotte’s web said TERRIFIC, Wilbur had tried to look terrific. And now that the web said RADIANT, he did everything possible to make himself glow.”

Most of all, I’m not sure I expected to be shown the power of words. The language we use when talking to people will affect them; the words we use to describe them will change them. The other barn critters saw Wilbur as a lame, smelly pig heading for the smoker. And he believed it. He was going to accept that fate. But then Charlotte saw something special in him, and she spoke what she saw over him. When she did, it changed the way he even carried himself. She and her 8 little legs changed what Wilbur believed of himself. He lived up to what his friend said of him.

That’s incredible.

It makes me wonder: what do I speak over people? Is it life-giving, or condemning? Is it helpful and true, or unkind and belittling? I better answer honestly, because my words will make a difference – whether for good or bad – in someone’s life today. And I hope it’s a good one.

You might feel above reading a children’s book, but none of us are exempt from learning these lessons of kind words, friendship, and shifting the way we view life. In fact, some of us need a kid’s book to show us that simply; I’m one of them. Thank you, Charlotte’s Web, for bringing me back to the wonder of childhood and learning to live in the world again.

And to Charlotte – thank you for setting an example of how to be a true friend and a good writer. I want to be both.