I recommend Charlotte’s Web for anyone who can read it, specifically elementary school and up, though it makes a splendid readaloud. While it is a (terribly, tragically) sad story, even the youngest of audiences can learn about friendship and selflessness from E.B. White’s classic barnyard tale.
Family rating: 4.5/5
My favorite character: Mrs. Goose. I can’t help it.
Fern wakes up early one rainy morning to see her father carrying an ax out to the barn. She immediately knows something is wrong. Her hunch is right; Fern’s father is just about to kill a baby pig- “the runt”, farmers call it, which won’t earn them any money. Horrified, Fern pleads with her father and promises to raise the baby pig herself if only he will spare the little thing. Her childlike reasoning wins over her father, and Fern soon has herself a piglet to care for, Wilbur by name.
Wilbur soon grows up, and grown-up pigs have to move into his own stall in a neighbor’s barn, all alone and without Fern, he realizes just how lonely his new life could be. He cannot make friends of the other snobbish animals. Fortuantely, one kindly spider reaches out to Wilbur. So begins Wilbur’s unforgettable friendship with Charlotte the spider.
What is good
Despite their obvious physiological differences, Charlotte and Fern have the same kindness in their hearts. Both reach out to Wilbur when he has no ally. Fern raises Wilbur as if he is her own baby. Charlotte encourages Wilbur, reasons with him, lets him know that she will always be there for him. In short, we all wish we had a friend like Charlotte or Fern- and hopefully we learn to be a friend like them.
In strong harmony with the theme of friendship is that of selflessness. Spiders don’t live long lives, but Charlotte spends hers serving other people, be it spinning webs to save Wilbur from a pig’s typical Christmas fate or preparing a nest for her children. In stark contrast to Charlotte’s selflessness is Templeton, a rodential miser who steals and hoards garbage. As they read, the very youngest of children can see the contrast and decide which they’d rather be: a selfless spider or a selfish rat.
What is not good
I do have a caveat for parents of very young or sensitive children. Do not read this book if you don’t want the pages ruined with tears! As a little girl I cried my eyes out over the tragic ending, and after that I could never bring myself to watch the movie.
Other than that, arachnophobes, if you can’t handle the mildest illustrations of spiders, this book may not be for you…
Young or old- arachnophobic or not- everyone can enjoy the story of a spider who touched so many lives on one farm.