This month, E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web is the read-aloud book for the 2nd grade. They take the book home to share with their families; the hallway is decorated with spiders and pigs. The enthusiasm shown by teachers and students alike is “T double-E double-R double-R double-I double-F double-I double C, C, C!” to quote the Goose in the novel.
I mentioned to one of the teachers that I had seen an exhibit at the Eric Carle museum in 2013. The exhibit, Some Book, Some Art: Selected Drawings by Garth Williams for Charlotte’s Web, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the novel with original illustrations by Garth Williams. They showed how the spider drawing “morphed” as a collaboration between White and Williams.
At the end of the exhibit, there was a poem that White wrote in 1929 shortly after his marriage. The poem’s title is “Natural History” and the first of three stanzas reads:
“The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of his devising;
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.”
The choice of words such as “devising” and “premeditated” are certainly part of any spider’s nature, but these characteristics are central to the plot the character of Charlotte devises to rescue the pig Wilber from the butcher’s block.
White also saw spiders also as loyal, spinning metaphorical connections of threads to lives as evidenced by the closing stanza:
“Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning.”
While it is unlikely the 2nd graders will understand all the language of White’s poem, their experience with the character of Charlotte-her loyalty, her bravery, and her compassion- will be the silken strand that keeps them forever connected to this wonderful book.