Review posted April 3, 2013.
Listening Library, 2002. Written in 1952. Recorded in 1970. 3 compact discs.
1953 Newbery Honor Book
1970 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award
Charlotte's Web has twice been voted the #1 Children's Chapter Book of all time by librarians and parents voting in Betsy Bird's School Library Journal Top 100 Chapter Books Poll. In fact, it was reading Betsy's post that I learned that there is an audio with E. B. White reading the book. I immediately checked if our library had that version and happily took it home.
It's been many years since I've read this practically perfect book. My third grade teacher read it to me the first time. Later, I read it to my sons. And my older son watched the Hanna-Barbara animated version over and over again. As I listened to the audiobook, I realized that the many lines I had memorized were the ones that were used in the film. And they did keep many, many of the great lines. (Like the starting and ending lines. Like Charlotte's salutation.) But I'd forgotten a lot of the side scenes that didn't make it to the film.
There are so many scenes simply of life in the barn. Swinging on the rope swing. Wilbur escaping his pen right at the beginning. How it felt to have slops poured on top of Wilbur or to roll in the warm manure. The book is truly a paean to life in the barn.
Now at the beginning, I didn't feel E. B. White measured up to the actors and especially actresses I remembered reciting the lines in my head. But his voice grew on me, and it's a good, down-to-earth voice for this story. You can hear in his voice his love for the quiet life of the barn. It's truly a treasure to still be able to listen to him telling his masterpiece of a story.
There's no need to critique this classic. I was surprised to find little quibbles. What happens to Fern when the whole spider plot happens. Isn't she in on it? But it's Charlotte's Web! The book is genius, and it works. And you can listen to it read by E. B. White himself.