by White, E. B.. Illustrated by Garth Williams. (HarperCollins, 1999 ISBN 0060263857. Order Info.) Novel. Grades 3+.
This book that's brought tears and laughter to so many generations is a book that we tend to take for granted. It got no Newbery Award to put it along side the giants of children's literature: the award for 1953 went to a book called Secret of the Andes. Charlotte's Web was an also ran. The good news is that Charlotte's Web became a classic anyway.
I will admit that the book sat unread on my bookshelf for many weeks when it first came to my attention. I was teaching second grade and had two young daughters at home at the time. An aunt had given me a copy with warm recommendations. However, the cover put me off. A vulnerable little girl holds a pig. You can barely see the spider dangling over the head of a sheep. I confess that I dread reading most animal books. I know, when I see a child clutching an appealing animal on the cover of a novel for young people, that the author is going to make me love that animal and then it's going to die or be mistreated or at least be in dreadful danger. I was sure that pig was going to be killed, and so I kept opting for another book for reading aloud. Finally, I started the book, hanging on even when Wilbur's life is threatened in the first line. Of course I went on. Of course I read it to my own children and to the children at school and to many, many children since then. What a perfect book it is!
Look how Charlotte's Web has affected us. Spiders all over America probably don't realize how often their lives have been spared because the person who spies one in the house has read Charlotte's Web. No such reader has ever looked at a young pig without thinking of Wilbur. Surely we've looked at spider webs hoping to spot some trace of a word in its intricacies. And, while most of us still fail to appreciate rats, we do smile at the gluttonous but ultimately heroic Templeton. I defy anyone to read the book without shedding tears over Charlotte's death, the account of which ends with one of the saddest lines in literature "No one was with her when she died."
If there's another book in the field that has handled the inevitability of the cycle of life with more skill and wisdom, I don't know it. At the same time White pokes gentle fun at advertising and human nature while he celebrates the simplicities of farm life.
One more beauty of the work is that it can be understood on so many levels. Children much younger than eight may be too young to deal with the death of a favorite character, but kids from that age up can usually handle it. It takes some maturity and acuity to see through the action to deeper meanings and it is unfortunate if children, having heard the book in the early grades, are not encouraged to approach it again in fifth or sixth grade. Adults, of course, can get even more meaning.
As for activities for the classroom before, during and after reading Charlotte's Web, be very, very careful. Any work of literature for children can sink if it is overworked or trivialized with barely relevant skills work, and a thing of intricate beauty like Charlotte's Web is particularly vulnerable. Any of the suggested activities below should be approached with caution and never continued until destruction of the literature or interest sets in.
|Wilbur||Not to be killed||He lives|
|Charlotte||To save Wilbur||He lives|
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. Featured Book Teachers Guide with review, discussion ideas, activities, related books and links.
Picture Books in the Classroom
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Starting with the best of the best in picture books for kindergarten through second grade, Carol Hurst shows you how to use them effectively in the classroom.
Each of the skills in the picture books is clearly labeled with recurring images for social studies, math, science, language arts, music, physical education and art. So the teacher can find the relevant listings with ease. This makes designing a new unit a breeze.
Then Ms. Hurst takes the best authors and illustrators separately and shows their most important books for classroom use.
A treasure-trove of effective materials to open young minds to new skills! And to an appreciation of the fun in reading books!
Are Frog and Toad brave? Might they just think they are? What people do you know about who are considered brave? Now what evidence can you give to back up that idea?
In Martin's "The Finest Horse in Town," the two children that the author imagines might have taken care of Prince got two pennies a week for their job. Figure out how much money they would have if they kept care of Prince through all the seasons the book says they did. How will you go about figuring that out?
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