40 in forty wisdom: Charlotte's Web

Earlier this year, Jack's 4th grade class read Charlotte's Web together. Although I devoured the book many, many times during my youth, it's been ages since I'd read or even thought about the story.

Jack loved it, and at the library last week discovered the book in audio form read by none other than E.B. White himself. Hurriedly, we checked it out, and Jack, Ol and I decided to listen to a bit of it each time we're in the car.

People, this is a win for many reasons, not least because it completely cuts inane chatter and backseat bickering.

But back to Charlotte's Web. It is a most wonderful tale, teeming with truths about childhood, development, parents, difference, tolerance, and friendship. It is so poignant in some parts, so masterfully written in many others. It is at once simple and sophisticated, and I think that's part of its magic and also why it still moved and engaged so much, roughly thirty years after I first read it.

Don't you all remember this image from the book? So memorable and dear.

Don't you all remember this image from the book? So memorable and dear.

I adore this passage from Chapter 15 especially:

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer's ending, a sad, monotonous song. "Summer is over and gone," they sang. "Over and gone, over and gone. Summer is dying, dying."
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summer cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year-the days when summer is changing into fall-the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
Everybody heard the song of the crickets. Avery and Fern Arable heard it as they walked the dusty road. They knew that school would soon begin again. The young geese heard it and knew that they would never be little goslings again. Charlotte heard it and knew that she hadn't much time left. Mrw. Zuckerman, at work in the kitchen, heard the crickets, and a sadness came over her, too...
"Summer is over and gone," repeated the crickets...
The sheep heard the crickets, and they felt so uneasy they broke a hold in the pasture fence and wandered up into the field across the road. The gander discovered the hole and led his family through, and they walked to the orchard and ate the apples that were lying on the ground. A little maple tree in the swamp heard the cricket song and turned bright red with anxiety. 

Isn't that hauntingly lovely? It evokes any time of change, really, and perfectly so the nostalgia of changing seasons, children growing up, ourselves aging. 

E.B. White's voice is not at all what I expected but after a couple chapters of becoming accustomed to what initially sounds like a gruff New Yorker, I settled in to the gift of hearing a talented writer read his own dear words. Not I can't imagine anyone else voicing the book.

We have all adored this joint listening experience, and my bit of wisdom for you today is to find a copy of E.B. White reading Charlotte's Web and enjoy it, with kids or by yourself. I guarantee you that age doesn't much matter.