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Charlotte's Web | Why You should Read it with your Students Now!

Posted by Jennifer Hester on

It's now a beloved classic, but when E.B. White first published Charlotte's Web, he faced some criticism. Critics questioned why on earth he would use a revolting and feared creature like a spider to be the star of a children's book. Critics also pointed out that perhaps tackling the theme of death in the midst of such a "cute" book about talking animals seemed a bit out of place. 

Literary genius and nature lover that he was, E.B. White paid no mind to any of these comments. And I'm so glad he did, because over 70 years later, it is still a very popular book to read with children!

If you haven't read it with your students yet, I highly recommend it. Read on to find out my top 3 reasons why.

Not to mention, you'll also get lots of juicy ideas for classroom discussions, so be sure to bookmark this post for later!

Charlotte's Web Image of Book

1. The female protagonists are kind of awesome.

Yes, Wilbur the male pig is arguably a central protagonist. But he shares the spotlight with both Fern, the human female protagonist, and Charlotte A. Cavatica, the female spider.

A recent study, that was published in 2021 by scholars from Princeton and Emory University, found that main characters in children’s books are still most often male. Although we have come a long way in the past 60 years, that bias remains. It's so important to keep this in mind when choosing novels to read with our students!

The very first line of Charlotte's Web is, "Where's Papa going with that ax?" And that whole first chapter shows the grit and determination of a young girl determined to save something weak, small, and unwanted.

Fern! A girl who knew what she wanted and set out to get it! She stood up to her big, strong dad for something she believed in, and I love her for it.

And let's not forget about Charlotte, the no-nonsense spider who adopts Wilbur as her very own. She refuses to accept that Wilbur will be inevitably butchered, and she fights against all odds to save him. She shows spunk, intelligence, and courage, and she makes sacrifices to help Wilbur until her very own death at the end of the book.  

Image of Spider in lovely web

2. It's all about lovable talking animals, BUT it's so much deeper than that!

There are some adorable scenes woven throughout the book, like when Fern wraps up baby Wilbur in a tiny blanket and takes him for a walk in her doll carriage. Animal-lover or not, that's undeniably cute! 

Yet these smile-inducing moments are complemented by some serious topics--great themes to dig into with your students! The most notable ones are growing up, and death. 

We see major character development, with Fern growing up in the story. It's bittersweet (especially for me, because I want my own kids to stay little and innocent forever!). 

She starts off by spending all her time hanging out with Wilbur and the other barn animals but eventually grows up and moves on to more grown-up things. 

And then there's Wilbur, who changes a great deal from beginning to end. He starts off having such an idyllic babyhood, pampered and fawned over by Fern, but then he has to move away to the big farm, where he has to face loneliness, his own certain death, and then the death of his dearest friend! 

Character Changes Resource from my Novel Study

A resource included in my Charlotte's Web Novel Study.

3. Charlotte's Web is perfect for teaching Setting. 

E.B. White said that the setting of Charlotte's Web was inspired by his childhood farm in New York, and also his own farm in Maine, where he spent many years raising animals. (Also, did you know that Wilbur's character was inspired by a pig that E.B. White was very attached to, who got very ill and eventually died?)

The farm setting in Charlotte's Web brings to mind an idyllic, old-fashioned farm setting, one that would be hard to find in modern day.

And E.B. White writes with lovely imagery, bringing to mind the sights and smells of a barn. Like on page 13, where it says, "The barn...smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell--as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world." 

You'll be able to analyze the setting of Charlotte's Web with your students in great detail. And you'll also be able to use this book as a perfect example of how students should describe settings when they're writing their own fictional pieces. 

Setting Resource from my Novel Study

A resource included in my Charlotte's Web Novel Study.

So, have I convinced you yet? I bet you're ready to read it with your students! 

Make your Novel Study stress-free with my Charlotte's Web Resources!

Don't miss out on my complete no-prep novel study, which contains a wealth of resources for this book, including comprehension, vocabulary, activities, projects, and much more! It even includes a digital version through Google Drive.

Charlotte's Web Novel Study

 Don't need the whole thing? Check out my smaller Charlotte's Web resources below!

Charlotte's Web Comprehension and VocabularyCharlotte's Web Activities and ProjectsCharlotte's Web Tests

For a FREE sample of my Charlotte's Web Novel Study (plus a 15% off coupon), click below! 

Charlotte's Web Free Sample