by Jessa Cunningham, dramaturg
What compelled E.B. White to write Charlotte’s Web? And perhaps more importantly, why has this children’s book remained so popular among all those who read it?
Growing up, White always had a special bond with animals. This love led to him raising a variety pets as a child, from dogs to pigeons to turtles. One of his first writing awards came from a story he wrote about a dog that he submitted to a local magazine. It was clear from the beginning that he had a knack for writing about animals!
Once his career took off, White found himself writing columns and essays for The New Yorker. While he loved what he did there, he felt like he could try something new. In 1945, White published his first children’s book: Stuart Little. This tale revolves around the life of a mouse who is raised by humans and documents the crazy adventures he finds himself in. It is no surprise that White chose an animal as his main character, given his history!
After the success of his first children’s book, White decided to do another. This time, he looked to his own home for inspiration. At the end of the 1930s, E.B. White and his family decided to move to a farm up in Maine to escape the chaos of New York City. White fell in love with this farm and all of the experiences he had there gave him the inspiration for his most beloved book: Charlotte’s Web. He even had his own pig like Wilbur at one time! While he raised this pig for the meat, he soon developed a strong relationship with it when it fell very ill. White spent many hours trying to nurse it back to health, but in the end couldn’t save the pig’s life. His distraught feelings and regret about the pig allowed him to explore the idea of changing the narrative for Charlotte’s Web.
This book has remained in the hearts of many for decades, and mostly because of the message it tells and how it is told. A tale of friendship and happiness is one that everyone can enjoy, and White makes it a point to make sure that these enjoyable themes also pack a punch. The friendships formed have their moments of frivolity and silliness, but there are always certain lines embedded within these scenes that bring the reader back to the message. What lines are your favorite? Are there any that have stayed with you since you read the book?
White certainly knows how to write a book geared for children without writing down to his target audience. The way this book is written allows for people of all ages to enjoy it. White never tried to write like a simpleton or in a silly fashion to get children’s attention. He knew that kids are more intelligent than most adults give them credit for, and that is genius of Charlotte’s Web. E.B. White wrote a story that is ageless, fun, and deep all at the same time without isolating any of his readers. This book is an easy and entertaining read for people of all ages, which is why it has lasted so long. What do you like most about Charlotte’s Web? If you haven’t read the book before, now is the perfect opportunity to discover the world that White created!
On May 16th, there will be an activity called “Taking a Humble Pig from Page to Stage” at the Provo Public Library with the actors playing Charlotte, Wilbur, and Fern. Come and hang out with them while they show you how Charlotte’s Web went from a novel to a play! This is a great chance to show off your knowledge about Wilbur and the rest of the gang!