Sunday, 10 June 2012

Book Review: 'Charlotte's Web' by E.B White

Charlotte's Web
by E.B. White

Published: 1952
Publisher: Harper Collins
Format: Paperback
Pages: 184

Cover Art

This cover is iconic. Even if the title wasn't there I think most people would see this image and instantly know it was the cover for 'Charlotte's Web'. It's gorgeous and doesn't feel at all old fashioned- I love it.

Plot Synopsis

Some Pig.

These are the words in Charlotte's web, high in the barn. Her spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, as well as the feelings of a little girl named Fern ... who loves Wilbur, too.

My Rating:

First Line:
''Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast."
Pocket-Size Review
This is a PROPER children's book. Not patronising, not simplified, just good storytelling and a raw, heartfelt message.

Highs: The beautiful story, the lovely message and Wilbur the pig.
Lows: I suppose if you held a gun to my head, I might say that the surplus characters such as the geese and Templeton the rat got on my nerves, but they helped create a nice farmyard setting.


How was this book published in 1952!? How did I not know that!? I thought it was published in the 90's when I was little. Look at that cover. Does that look like the cover of a book published 60 years ago!? I am so glad that this beautiful story has survived for so many years, which I think is a testament to how timeless and wonderful the story is.

The beginning of the novel throws you right into the brutal day to day life on a farm. A pig has been born who is the runt of the litter and the farmer is going to kill him. I liked how this aspect wasn't sugarcoated or overly justified, and the farmer wasn't sentimental about it, because that just wouldn't be authentic or realistic. Farms are not countryside idylls, they have ruthless aspects which may be difficult for us to accept but that's life. I like it when books don't dumb things down for children and portray things in a realistic way. Anyway, the farmer's daughter saves the pig and calls him Wilbur. He goes to live in a barn where he meets lots of farmyard friends including Charlotte the spider who lives in the centre of her web in the corner of the barn.

The personalities of the animals are wonderful. Wilbur is an incredibly adorable pig with a childlike innocence and naivety that he never loses, even as he becomes older. He is emotional and, for me, the most memorable moments in the book were when Wilbur receives bad or distressing news he throws himself down on the floor in emotional turmoil. I love him for those moments...I don't know why! He is also very formal, particularly when meeting Charlotte for the first time, 'I didn't mean to be objectionable'. Aww!

The friendship between Wilbur and Charlotte was so heartwarming. I am terrified of spiders in real life, which I know is completely irrational but I can't remember a time before I hated them. However, I can recognise that they do have a certain beauty about them, with their spindly legs and the way they can spin a silken web in a perfect pattern. I still loved Charlotte despite the fact that if I saw her in real life I would probably shudder. Charlotte is wise and sensible and very intelligent. She is a mother to Wilbur, who is a lonely little piglet in a barn of animals who don't understand him and his curiosity. 

For me, this book had some adorable messages. The first is that you shouldn't judge others before you really know them. When Wilbur first meets Charlotte, his preconceptions about spiders get in the way of his liking for her. He judges her before he really understands why she does certain things, 'she is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty- everything I don't like. How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever?' Wilbur soon realises that Charlotte is just different to him and learns to love her differences. The book is also about loss and loneliness as well as growing up, and deals with these huge difficult subjects really sensitively. I shed a little tear at the end because it is so beautifully done! I also wondered if maybe the story was written by Fern, the girl who saves Wilbur from the axe at the beginning of the story, as she is the one who sits on her milking stool day after day observing the animals and listening to their conversations. It feels like perhaps the whole story was invented by her as a child, and her own coming of age story is entwined with Wilbur's.

Overall, I think this must be one of the best children's books out there. It takes on huge themes and executes them perfectly. Adorable and authentic; it is not hard to see why this book is still so well loved 60 years after it was first published.

Other Thoughts

This Book has Inspired me to Read: I have now bought 'Lady Daisy' by Dick King Smith which is another childhood favourite which I want to re-visit.
Three Words to Describe this Book: Beautiful, Sad, Heartwarming.


  1. This was one of my favourite books from my childhood. So nice to see a 'modern' review - the book is timeless.

  2. Okay, I seriously feel a tinge of embarrassment each time I think of this book.
    I loved this book so much when I was younger that I checked it out of the library, said that I lost it, payed for it and hid it under the front porch, pulling it out regularly to reread it.

  3. This book has a special place in my heart, as I'm sure it does for many people. I remember my third grade teacher reading it to us. She was wonderful. So was the book. Thanks for bringing it all back.

  4. This was one of my favorite books growing up. E.B. White wrote magical books!

  5. "Charlotte's Web" is a masterful blend of whimsy, humor, gentle satire, and life-and-death drama. But above all, it is a powerful story of friendship. Deeply moving and superbly written, this is a book which, I believe, will endure as a treasured classic.
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  8. "Charlotte's Web" is a masterful blend of whimsy, humor, gentle satire, and life-and-death drama. But above all, it is a powerful story of friendship. Deeply moving and superbly written, this is a book which, I believe, will endure as a treasured classic.