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Charlotte's Web | Book Summary and What You Should Know before Teaching it

Posted by Jennifer Hester on

Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White, is a classic story that has enthralled both children and adults alike for over 70 years. The magic of this book is that it somehow made me fall in love with both a pig AND a spider, which I definitely don't consider to be the most cuddly of creatures!

It's a story that appears lighthearted on the surface (it's just talking animals after all!). But it actually spins a complicated web---pun intended---of very real feelings. Yes, even feelings of absolute heartbreak and devastation. 

It's truly a great book to read in the classroom, and it will show your students (and you!) that even after despair and utter sadness, life does go on. 

Charlotte's Web Book Photo

Charlotte's Web Book Summary

The very first sentence of the book reads, "Where's Papa going with that ax?"

That sentence, coupled with the picture of a very cute but distressed-looking pig on the front cover, is enough to capture a reader right away.

A little girl named Fern manages to convince her father to not kill the runt of a new litter of pigs. She adopts the tiny thing as her own and names him Wilbur. But most good things come to an end, and Fern soon sells him to her uncle, who owns the farm down the road. 

It is there, at the Zuckerman farm, that Wilbur meets a whole host of both friendly and not-so-friendly fellow animals. Wilbur accepts and enjoys this new life, but is quite lonely. Lonely and a bit bored, until he meets Charlotte, a very wise spider who lives in a corner of Wilbur's barn. 

Charlotte and the other animals become aware that the Zuckermans plan to fatten Wilbur up only to slaughter him. When Wilbur finds out, he is horrified and begs Charlotte to help him. So, with Charlotte in the lead, everyone in the barn plots to save Wilbur's life. 

Charlotte makes Wilbur famous by spinning words in her web, much to the amazement of the humans, who come to view this phenomenon from near and far. She spins some memorable words into her web: Some Pig, Terrific, Radiant, and Humble.

All of this unexpected attention on Wilbur makes him famous and earns him a spot at the fair, where he wins a special prize. Thanks to all this newfound fame, there's no way the Zuckermans will slaughter Wilbur. 

But all the happiness of these exciting events isn't enough to temper the sadness of Charlotte's passing. Charlotte, Wilbur's greatest friend, lays 514 eggs, and dies shortly thereafter. 

Wilbur is understandably devastated but finds comfort in watching Charlotte's eggs and waiting for them to hatch. When they finally do, they're glad to know Wilbur, and Wilbur treasures them, as they remind him so much of his dear friend, Charlotte. 

But one day, Wilbur suffers another heartbreak, when almost all of Charlotte's baby spiders float away in the wind using their little balloons. He cries himself to sleep but is so glad to find that three spiders have stayed behind with him, to live in the barn.

After that, months and years go by, and Fern comes by less and less frequently as she grows up, but thankfully, Wilbur is kept company by many of Charlotte's descendants.

Highlights to know when Studying the Book

Point of View

The book is written in third person omniscient, meaning the reader can hear and see what different characters are doing and thinking.

Setting | Time and Place

The story mostly takes place on the Zuckerman farm, which is somewhere in America, probably sometime around the 1950s. Parts of the story also take place at Fern's home and at the fair.

Charlotte's Web Setting Anchor PosterSetting The Five Senses Sample of Charlotte's Web Novel Study Worksheet

These are samples of resources included in my Charlotte's Web Novel Study.


Themes include:

  • the importance of friendship and love
  • how difficult it is to grow up
  • the sad reality of death
  • perseverance; pursuing something that is important to you
  • the process of grief

    Major Conflict

    Wilbur needs the help of his friends to change the course of his life, which ends in being slaughtered for meat. 


    For younger or more sensitive children, the theme of death which pervades the book from beginning to end, could be difficult to handle. The imminence of Wilbur's death is mostly what fuels the plot forward, and in the end, Charlotte's death could strike some readers as unexpected and jarring.

    Reading Levels

    • Accelerated Reading Level: 4.4
    • Lexile: 680L
    • Interest Level: Grades 2-5

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    Charlotte's Web Novel Study Unit Cover

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