Review of Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White

Charlotte’s Web

by E. B. White
read by the Author

Listening Library, 2002. Written in 1952. Recorded in 1970. 3 compact discs.
Starred Review
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.

Now, 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.

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Top 100 Picture Book Writers and Illustrators – #5 Kevin Henkes

It’s been three months since I last posted on the Top 100 Writers and Illustrators from Betsy Bird’s Polls at her Fuse #8 Blog.

I’ve recently been posting features about my own Stand-out Authors – people who had books on my 2012 Sonderbooks Stand-outs and previous Stand-outs lists as well. Doing those feature posts was fun, and it reminded me that I’d been neglecting the Top 100 Authors and Illustrators.

And it so happens that Kevin Henkes, our #5 Top Picture Book Author and Illustrator also appeared in my last Stand-out Authors post.

Here’s how the vote went:

Total points: 229
Number of votes: 41

All of these votes were for books he both wrote and illustrated, so he’s #5 in both categories.

He was an author whose votes were distributed among many well-loved books.

He had three books in the Top 100:

#11 Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
Points: 89
Votes: 14

#25 Kitten’s First Full Moon
Points: 59
Votes: 9

This one had one comment Betsy didn’t mention: “Beautiful” — from Kyle Wheeler

#66 Chrysanthemum
Points: 29
Votes: 7

Quotations about this book:
“Love all the books by this author” — Allison
“This was a close tie with Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse but my kids like this one better and I only wanted to include one title per author, if possible” — Rachel (Even in Australia)

Mathematically savvy readers will quickly see that this doesn’t account for all of Kevin Henkes’ points. Here are the other books that got votes:

Old Bear 16 points, 3 votes
Comment: “My favorite picture book from the last decade, and quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites.” — Hotspur Closser

Chester’s Way 15 points, 3 votes

Owen 15 points, 3 votes
Comment: “Great way to introduce compromise to kids” — Linda Westphal

A Good Day 3 points, 1 vote

Little White Rabbit 3 points, 1 vote
Comment: “A series of mishaps end happily” — Carol Melichar

Of course, one of the wonderful things about Kevin Henkes is that he’s still writing. I put a picture of Penny and Her Song at the top of this post, because, you watch, I believe in a future poll Penny will be represented.

Top 100 Children’s Novelists – #5 – C. S. Lewis

Top 100 Children’s Novelists: #5 – C. S. Lewis, 246 points.

It’s been a long time since I posted this series of the top authors and illustrators from Betsy Bird‘s Top 100 Picture Books and Children’s Novel Polls. Perhaps I’ll finish before she starts another poll!

Tonight’s author came out #5 on the poll. He was my own #4, so I’m definitely happy about this one.

Two of his books made the Top 100 on Betsy’s poll, and here are her posts about them.
#5 The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

#96 The Horse and His Boy

Here’s how the points were distributed, with links to my own reviews:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with 204 points from 32 votes

The Horse and His Boy with 20 points from 3 votes

The Magician’s Nephew with 17 points from 2 votes (probably people who thought of this as the first in the series)

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with 4 points from 1 vote

The Silver Chair with 1 point from 1 vote

Here are the only two Narnia books that weren’t mentioned:
Prince Caspian
The Last Battle

And did you know there’s an audio version of The Last Battle with Patrick Stewart reading it?

I remember how sad I was the first time I finished The Last Battle, that the Narnia books were over, even if the characters were continuing happily ever after, I wanted to read about them!

Here are my reviews of C. S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy for adults:
Out of the Silent Planet
That Hideous Strength

Some other fiction for adults:
Till We Have Faces
The Great Divorce

Some essays and stories for adults:
Of Other Worlds

And a book of devotional readings with selections from his writings:
A Year With C. S. Lewis

I think I can safely say he’s the only author who will show up on this Top 100 list with this kind of breadth in his work.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Top 100 Picture Book Authors and Illustrators – #4, Eric Carle

I’m slowly working through the top authors and illustrators from Betsy Bird’s Fuse #8 blog Top 100 Picture Books poll. Today we’ll feature Eric Carle.

Here are his totals:
#4 Picture Book Author, 278 points, 44 votes
#4 Picture Book Illustrator, 324 points, 53 votes

Though Eric Carle has a plethora of outstanding picture books filling library shelves across the country, most people realized that his spot in this poll would be filled by his classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Betsy had a lovely post about the many manifestations of the famous Caterpillar, #2 in the poll. It’s even been a Google doodle!

Three other books solely by Eric Carle received votes:

The Very Busy Spider got 9 points, with a comment from Sue Eilers: “My favorite book to read to babies. The illustrations are wonderful.”

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me got 6 points, and DeeAnn Okamura made the comment, “Another favorite to read to classes. The glorious pull out pages always elicit “oohs and aahs” from the crowd.”

The Grouchy Ladybug got 5 points, and Pam Coughlan (Mother Reader) said, “It’s hard to pick just one Carle book, but I like doing the grouchy voice when reading it.” I like imagining her grouchy voice, myself!

But why, you may ask, did he get so many more points as illustrator than as writer? That’s on the strength of the wonderful #38 in the poll, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, written by Bill Martin, Jr., and illustrated by Eric Carle.

I find I don’t have any reviews of Eric Carle books on my website, but I do have a review of one book with a chapter about him, Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art. He’s the second Living Artist to show up in the poll, and here’s hoping his fruitful career will continue for many years to come.

#4 Children’s Novelist – Madeleine L’Engle

Today School Library Journal released a gorgeous full-color pdf version of Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Children’s Novels Poll. I’m terribly proud that my name appears for my help tallying the numbers and also in some quotes about the books. This seemed like a good reason to post another of the Top 100 Authors.

#4 Children’s Novelist: Madeleine L’Engle, 317 points, 45 votes

Now, this isn’t a big surprise, since Madeleine L’Engle’s book, A Wrinkle in Time, was the #2 Children’s Novel, with 307 points.

I admit I was a bit surprised that the one other book which was mentioned was Many Waters, with a first place vote for 10 points, and the words, “My favorite of hers…I think I loved the way she embellished a story I already knew (Noah and the ark), particularly including female characters that don’t show up in the Biblical narrative except as sidenotes.” — Libby Gorman

Now, my personal favorite Madeleine L’Engle book is probably A Ring of Endless Light, but that wasn’t mentioned at all. I find I haven’t reread too many of her books since I started writing Sonderbooks, but there’s a lovely range of titles. I will have to remedy that. It turns out that I have read and reviewed a lot of her nonfiction for adults. So just for fun, I’ll post links to those here.

Here’s Betsy’s post about A Wrinkle in Time.

Here’s my most recent review of the audio version, read by the author herself.
Here’s my 2001 review of A Wrinkle in Time, posted in my third issue of Sonderbooks when it was still an e-mail newsletter.

And here are her other books I’ve reviewed:
The Joys of Love
Walking on Water
A Circle of Quiet
The Summer of the Great-grandmother
The Irrational Season
Glimpses of Grace
Madeleine L’Engle, Herself

It’s definitely high time I reread some of her others.

#3 Picture Book Author and Illustrator – Dr. Seuss

I’m summing up the Author and Illustrator totals from Betsy Bird and School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Picture Books Poll. I’m doing it slowly, savoring the results, and I’m up to #3. Dr. Seuss is such a stand-by, my only surprise here is that he was beaten by youngster Mo Willems. (Go, Mo! There’s no shame in #3, after all. But to beat Dr. Seuss! That really impressed me about Mo. In fact, since Maurice Sendak died after the poll closed, Mo Willems is now the top living Picture Book Author and Illustrator, based on that poll.)

But this is about Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is one of those writers who is such a stand-by, such a basic, you almost don’t think of him when you’re thinking about top picture books. And he has so many classics, it really spreads out the votes.

Here are his totals:

#3 Picture Book Writer, 349 points, 56 votes
#3 Picture Book Illustrator, 349 points, 56 votes

His books that made the Top 100, with links to Betsy’s posts, were:
#12 Green Eggs and Ham, 86 points
#33 The Lorax, 53 points
(Here are my pictures from The Street of the Lifted Lorax at Seussville in Universal Studios.)
#36 The Cat in the Hat, 50 points
#61 How the Grinch Stole Christmas, 30 points, 6 votes
#63 The Sneetches and Other Stories, 30 points, 5 votes
Here’s my own review of The Sneetches.

His other books that got votes were:

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, 17 points
“I figure there has to be a Seuss on my top list, and this is the one that I have the most fun reading aloud.” — Stacy Dillon
(“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.”)

The Butter Battle Book, 15 points
“It’s hard to pick any Dr. Seuss title, as his entire work should make up the top 40 of any best picture book list. For me though, The Butter Battle Book is an excellent example of both Dr. Seuss’ incredible talent with words and his ability to incorporate poignant messages of humanity into his stories.” — Owen Gray
“My favorite Seuss, though as a child, I didn’t get the full implications. I just remember thinking the increasingly outrageous contraptions were fun. And I have no idea where this comes from, but I have a vague memory of a story about someone asking Dr. Seuss what side of his bread he buttered, and the response was ‘The crusts, of course.'” — Sharon Thackston

I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, 15 points
(“where they never have troubles, at least very few.”)

Horton Hatches the Egg, 14 points
(“An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.”)

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, 10 points
“Fun for the young; great for graduates! Imagine giving a high school or college graduate a new copy of this book, what would she/he say!” — Dudee Chiang

Fox in Socks, 8 points
“I love to read tongue twisters aloud” — Carol
I’m with Carol! On Read Across America one year, I read Fox in Socks as quickly as I could.

Dr. Seuss’s ABC, 8 points
My oldest son learned to identify the letter O from this book at the amazing age of 15 months.

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, 7 points

The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, 3 points
“I always prefered Dr. Seuss when he wrote longer form stories, so this was a natural. All the characters are fully realized, as the situation just keeps on getting more ludicrous.” — Kyle Wheeler

Happy Birthday to You!, 3 points
(“If you weren’t you, then you might be a WASN’T. A Wasn’t has no fun at all. No he doesn’t.”)

Top 100 Children’s Novelists – #3 Lois Lowry

Top 100 Children’s Novelists: #3, Lois Lowry, 327 votes

Here’s another living author in the coveted #3 Top Children’s Author slot. (By my count, only half of the authors in the Top 10 Children’s Novelists are still alive.) Lois Lowry showed real depth with one book in the Top 10, another in the Top 100, and six different books appearing in the poll.

Here are Betsy’s posts about Lois Lowry’s books in the Top 100:

#4, The Giver, 260 points

#50, Number the Stars, 42 points

The other books which received votes, with comments where they were given, were:

Anastasia Krupnik, 17 points

“(This book is, I know, a longshot for making the top 100, but I love it, so I’m giving it a big bump by putting it at the top of my list. Anastasia was exactly who I wanted to be and who I wanted to be friends with when I was 10. I had a green notebook and still to this day keep a list of words that I think would make an f-is-for-fabulous sound poem.)” — Dana Chidiac

“I loved Anastasia because she was a normal girl with normal problems (glasses, acne, cool-but-embarrassing parents, annoying little brothers, etc). She was also smart and funny, and I envied her hiking boots with red laces (and later her tower bedroom).” — The Sauls Family

Gossamer, 4 points

“Stays with you long after the story is over – beautifully written” — Cheryl Phillips

A Summer to Die, 2 points

The Willoughbys, 2 points

I find I haven’t reviewed any of the books above, though I read most of them when I was an adult but before I became a librarian. Just for fun, and to show some of the scope of Lois Lowry’s writing, here are her books which I have reviewed:

Gooney Bird Greene
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
The Birthday Ball

And here is Lois Lowry’s own site.

#2 Picture Book Author and Illustrator – Mo Willems

Top 100 Picture Books Poll:
#2 Picture Book Author: Mo Willems, 520 points
#2 Picture Book Illustrator: Mo Willems, 501 points

This name isn’t surprising, for anyone who noticed that Mo Willems had two books in the Top 10 and four books in the Top 100. It is, however, astonishing. Mo is so young! And he beat DR. SEUSS!

Oh, yes, for those just coming in, I am reporting the results by author from Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Picture Books Poll on her School Library Journal Fuse #8 blog. The #2 Picture Book Author and #2 Picture Book Illustrator was Mo Willems.

Okay, I’m completely on the Mo Willems bandwagon. I’m convinced he’s a genius. You can tell, because I only review Picture Books that I especially like, and you can see below how many of his books I’ve chosen to review.

Here are Betsy’s posts about his books that hit the Top 100:

#3 Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, 198 points
#7 Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, 129 points
#26 We Are In a Book!, 59 points
#60 There Is a Bird on Your Head!, 31 points

These are his other books that received votes, with links to my reviews, when I have one:

Leonardo the Terrible Monster got four votes for a total of 19 points, and each voter commented.
Owen Gray said, Mo Willems is a modern master of the picture book and this follow up to his classic Knuffle Bunny is a perfect example of his genius. Willems’ use of humor mixed with simple line work that conveys the emotion in the story more clearly than any words ever could makes this a great read aloud as well as one that can be enjoyed quietly. My favorite page is when the character Sam is introduced and only takes up one tiny corner of a blank, two-page spread. He looks so lonely and scared the audience immediately identifies with him. Balance that page against his two-page, giant-font tirade that nearly knocks Leonardo over and one can easily see how Mo Willems has a wide emotional spectrum as well as perfect comic timing at his command. Some say he’s the modern Dr. Seuss, but in truth he has carved out his own niche in the picture book realm.
Natalie commented, Can’t imagine NOT reading this to Kindergarteners and hearing “Read it again!”
Aaron Zenz said, A main character with great personality. The use of space in the compositions is bold and brilliant. Flawless story beats and perfectly placed page turns.
And Mark Flowers contributed, I doubt that Knuffle Bunny or the Pigeon needs my vote, but this one might. From the very first joke–Leonardo is a “terrible” monster because he can’t scare anyone–to its brilliant design, this book absolutely belongs among the top tier of Willem’s triumphs.

City Dog, Country Frog, illustrated by Jon J. Muth, 19 points.
Amy Miele aptly commented on this book, What an amazing book. When I first read about the subject matter of this book, I thought no way, its not going to work. I should have known better. Mo Willems can write about ANYTHING!! This book says so much about grief, and the phases of life. It proves along with Pink and Say that great literature can come in any form.

The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog got three votes for a total of 17 points
Linda Westphal said, “Love the wise duck.”

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, one first place vote for 10 points.
That voter, Sharon Thackston, commented, A tough choice between this and Drive the Bus, but this one is my favorite.  It is arguably my favorite book to perform (and when I told Mr. Willems this at a book signing, he was delighted at my choice of the word “perform”).  Stay Up Late trumps Drive the Bus for me, because of awesomely big pigeon yawn, followed by innocent eyes and “I was stretching.”  Yeah-huh, Pigeon.  Whatever you say.

My Friend Is Sad got two votes for a total of 9 points, and both voters commented.
Amy Miele said, Can I really just pick one elephant and piggie book? If I may only have one, this must be the one. I love the pathos (or is it bathos, I am never sure) in Gerald’s face after every appearance of Piggie. I love the expression in Piggie’s face at the end when she realizes that Gerald didn’t know that his best friend was trying desperately to cheer him. What I really love is Mo’s ability to convey so much with line drawings, and few words. WOW! To be blessed with that genius.
And Sharon Thackston said, My favorite of the Elephant and Piggie early readers, because it’s a delight to perform. All of Piggie’s antics to cheer up Gerald, and all of Gerald’s hysteria in explaining his up and down day to Piggie are just priceless.

Today I Will Fly, 9 points
Amy Weir said, Speaking of truly excellent easy readers. Reading these aloud is like putting on a play, and it’s wonderful to alternate parts with my beginning reader. Also, so, so funny. More pure genius.
Stacy Dillon’s comment was short and sweet but right on: A game changer. Fun, fun, fun!

The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?, one fifth place vote for 6 points.
I’m with that voter, Geraldine Farmer-Morrison, but hadn’t read the book yet when the poll happened. She commented, I did hesitate about putting this new title on the list, but this is my favorite of Willems’ books.

The Pigeon Wants a Puppy, 6 points

I Am Invited to a Party got two votes for 5 points.
Melissa Fox commented, Again, another easy reader that I’m sneaking in to a picture book list… But my girls adore this one. I think it was the Heavy Medal Newbery blog that mentioned Elephant and Piggie were like mini-plays, and I can attest to that; they are so much fun to read (over and over and over again) and it gets to the point where you can dual-read with your 3-year-old (trust me, I did!) each taking a “part”. It’s enormous amounts of fun. While they’re all fun, I Am Invited to a Party is our favorite. Hands down.

I Broke My Trunk, 3 points

WHAT? No one voted my favorite Elephant and Piggie book, Are You Ready to Play Outside?!? What is wrong with you people?! I admit, I wasted my vote on Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, along with the crowd. But I seriously considered for this ONE book voting for two books by the same author. I admit, I enjoyed writing a blog piece on this book that included some musings about life lessons from the book.

Here are my reviews of some other Mo Willems books that weren’t included above:

My review of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
I Will Surprise My Friend
The one I wish I could read to a Statistics class: Pigs Make Me Sneeze

There you have it! Just compiling that list has worn me out. It’s easy to see why so many of us consider Mo Willems the new genius of the picture book form.

Top 100 Children’s Novelists #2 – E. B. White

# 2 Children’s Novelist – E. B. White, 365 points.

Nobody’s surprised about this one. The author for the second highest number of points in Betsy Bird’s poll of the Top 100 Chapter Books of All Time is E. B. White.

What might be surprising is that while J. K. Rowling, the #1 author, got there with votes on all seven of her books, E. B. White pulled off second place with votes on only two of his books.

Charlotte’s Web was Chapter Book #1, with 349 points.
And The Trumpet of the Swan had two people vote for it with a 2nd place and a 4th place ranking, for a total of 16 points.
I was surprised that Stuart Little got no points at all.

Now, I personally didn’t vote for Charlotte’s Web, but I might have if I’d thought for a moment it wouldn’t win. I have to admit the book is practically perfect. I have wonderful memories of Charlotte’s Web, since it was my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Kita, who introduced the book to me when she read it to our class after lunch. I remember being completely enthralled.

I was never enamored with the other two books, though my husband ended up making me fond of them. That Stuart Little was a mouse, I always found completely creepy. A small human would have been interesting. But a mouse? The open ending didn’t help for me, either.

Then there was The Trumpet of the Swan. I didn’t encounter that one until I was an adult. It’s a good story, but, come on, a trumpet? Really? I know enough about brass instruments to know that you really do need lips to play one. Playing a trumpet with a beak? I’m sorry, but my imagination doesn’t stretch that far.

Even though you’d think that would bother him, my ex-husband, a tuba player, had loved all three books since he was a boy. He read all three to our sons, and I get warm feelings just remembering that. He and our older son were working together on a sequel to Stuart Little called Margalo.

Then there was the Hanna Barbara film of Charlotte’s Web. My son watched that over and over and over, as only a preschooler can. And yet — I did not hate it, even after hearing it uncountably many times. Most of the dialogue was straight from the book, and the fact is, that’s good dialogue.

Come to think of it, Charlotte’s Web, though completely brilliant, is unconventional, like the other books. Perhaps that’s what blocked it from a Newbery Medal in the end. It starts out as a realistic book and then switches into fantasy with talking animals, though never going all the way there, staying firmly grounded in reality.

I recently read Michael Sims’ brilliant book, The Story of Charlotte’s Web. It turns out that E. B. White studied spiders for a full year before writing the book. His impeccable research is reflected in the book. These animals — and that immortal spider — are real and grounded in reality.

#1 Picture Book Author and Illustrator – Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak
#1 Picture Book Author, 570 points
#1 Picture Book Illustrator, 607 points

I should point out that Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Picture Books Poll happened before Maurice Sendak’s death. So these numbers were not inflated by the news of his death. I can’t help but wish he’d seen this one more triumph, but I imagine he knew he was on top with the last poll, so this was simply one more honor to a picture book genius.

Now, this name won’t come as a surprise, since Where the Wild Things Are all by itself was #1 with 533 points. As it turns out, no other author or illustrator got a total that passed that one. But he had another book in the Top 100, Pierre, at #79 with 25 points. What other books showed up on the poll for Maurice Sendak?

Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! got 5 points.
In the Night Kitchen got 5 points.
Chicken Soup With Rice got 2 points.

And for illustration:
Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik, got 17 points.
A Kiss for Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik, got 7 points.
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, by Charlotte Zolotow, got 5 points.
A Hole Is to Dig, by Ruth Krauss, got 4 points.
A Very Special House, by Ruth Krauss, got 2 points.
What Can You Do With a Shoe?, by Beatrice Schenk deRegniers, got 2 points.

So you see, Maurice Sendak well deserves the Number One spot!

I should confess that when I was a little girl, I didn’t really like Where the Wild Things Are. I’m afraid I was a real goody-two-shoes who didn’t like that Max was being bad. However, years later, as a mother of boys, I came to appreciate the need for a Wild Rumpus at times.

Though my truly favorite Maurice Sendak books are A Hole Is to Dig, Chicken Soup With Rice, and Little Bear. His children are truly ready to jump and play and dance. I so love the way the child laughs when the words say a tablespoon is to eat a table.

Truly Maurice Sendak was a genius and left the world a richer place.