As this month-long Slice of Life Challenge draws to a close, I’d like to take a look back at what brought me here.
One day in 1969 or 1970, I became a reader. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been reading and enjoying books before that; I had. But on that distant, seemingly ordinary day, a reader was born. How did this miracle occur? For whatever reason, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Matthews began reading Charlotte’s Web aloud to our class.
I was instantly drawn into the story. I recognized myself in Fern. I lived across the street from a farm, so the setting was familiar, even comforting. I wished I could raise a baby pig, although I’m sure I would have changed my mind quickly after a day or so. I guess the why of all this doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the right book was presented to me at the right time and it all clicked.
When I started teaching third grade I knew I wanted to begin the year reading Charlotte’s Web to my students. It became a tradition, and third grade teachers at my school still begin the year reading Charlotte’s Web to their students. There really isn’t any better place to start.
Katherine Paterson says that “a book can give a child a way to learn to value herself, which is at the start of the process of growing a great soul.” (pg. 32, The Invisible Child) E.B. White’s masterpiece did this for me.
Esme Raji Codell feels that “if a book helps to build an empathetic imagination, it succeeds.” (On Point interview, July 2, 2010) What better way to help a child with this than to show them Fern’s devotion to Wilbur? Or the truly selfless acts of Charlotte on behalf of Wilbur? Or the dedication of Wilbur to Charlotte’s children and grandchildren?
The book is also a celebration of the miracles of nature all around us that we fail to notice. When Mrs. Arable is worried about Fern’s obsession with Wilbur and the animals at the barn, she visits Dr. Dorian to discuss this.
She asks him “Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider’s web?”
“Oh no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.” (p. 108-109)
E.B. White appreciated miracles. And he created one with Charlotte’s Web.