E.B. White, A Personal Invitation, and Charlotte’s Web

I read aloud every day in my classroom, and weekly at the library.  Picture books are a mainstay, yet reading aloud chapter books can move the world.  Are you surprised?  Don’t be.  Thirty years of reading Charlotte’s Web is proof, my proof.  Every year former students return to be a guest reader.  I don’t invite them, they want to come.  Their parents pull me aside to tell me their child has become a voracious reader.  Many return as high schoolers to volunteer in my class.

If I go back to when they were preschoolers in my class, glued to chapter reading, their favorite book every year was Charlotte’s Web.  At the end of each school year we vote on our favorite chapter book, and the winner is always Charlotte’s Web.  Always.

My public library hosted a special event, E.B. White’s grand niece speaking about her beloved grand uncle.  The librarian was beside herself to tell me. She knew that I would desperately want be there.  “Jennie, she has his typewriter.  She’s bringing it.  And do you know that she calls him Andy?  That’s E.B. White’s nickname.”

Yes, I know.  I read Some Writer by Melissa Swift.  He’s Andy.  If you want to know everything about E.B. White, it is the book.  Far from a typical biography, it tells the reader as much about the books he wrote as it does about his life.  It is terrific.  Charlotte the spider would applaud that word.

I was out of town and unable to attend the event.  To say that I was devastated is an understatement.  Perhaps E.B. White’s grand niece would see the library poster on their bulletin board in the entrance of the children’s room.  Gee, no surprise here that the book I am reading on the display is Charlotte’s Web. 

A week later, after the big event, the librarian said, “Jennie, E.B. White’s grand niece (Lindsay) would like to meet you.  She knows about you, and has heard about how you read aloud Charlotte’s Web.”  Well, that’s about the best invitation I ever had.  And so, with a note to me that was addressed, “Salutations, Jennie!”, I was invited to her farm for a visit!

Lindsay’s grandfather was E.B. (Andy) White’s brother, Albert.  He was the keeper of the letters and memorabilia (most went to Cornell University).  He cared.  Lindsay inherited her grandfather’s genes, and also much of what he kept.  Albert was one of six children.  His brother, Andy, was the youngest.  Lindsay has the same look and expression as her grandfather in this photo (second from the right, bottom row.). Andy is the baby.

And there I was, standing  in a room filled with E.B. White memorabilia.  And, with E.B. White’s grand niece.  Humbling and exciting.  Words escaped me.  I felt like Wilbur.

First, there was the typewriter, an Underwood, upon which Andy wrote his books.  I don’t know about you, but seeing and touching that typewriter, something real and dear, was a piece of heaven for me.

Alongside is Lindsay’s first edition of  Charlotte’s Web, signed to her: “To Lindsay with love from her great uncle Andy.  E.B. White.”

Perhaps this plethora of photos and articles gives you a clue as to the volume of fascinating artifacts over many decades, from the cover of The New Yorker magazine where he worked much of his life, long before he wrote children’s books, to letters and family photos.  Look closely at the photo of Andy and his wife, Katherine.  She was the love of his life.  I knew that from reading the book.

     

“She was a strong woman.” said Lindsay.  “She was older than he was, eleven years older.  He adored her.  His mother was a strong woman, too.  She was much older when Andy was born.”

We talked a great deal about Charlotte’s Web.  “Would you like to hear a recording of Andy reading the book?” Lindsay asked.  “Of course!” I said.  As we listened to the opening of the book, I found myself whispering the words I knew so well, along with Andy.  Yet, I was surprised to hear how he read the story.

”I don’t read aloud the words like that at all.  His voice is calm and steady.  Mine is emotional.”  And so I recited a few sentences aloud.  Lindsay smiled.

Then she said, “Do you know it took him seventeen takes to read the final chapter, The Last Day?  Seventeen.  He couldn’t stop crying.  You see, in Charlotte’s Web Wilbur was actually Andy,  and Charlotte was his wife Katherine.  He was devoted to her and adored her.  She was his best friend, as Charlotte was to Wilbur.  Reading that chapter aloud brought back all the memories of his wife.”

I did not know that.  It makes perfect sense.  E.B. White is Wilbur the pig, and his beloved wife Katherine is Charlotte the spider.

I leave you with two of my favorite photos, the boathouse and the rope swing at the house in Maine.  Salutations!

              

Jennie

About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I am highlighted in the the new edition of Jim Trelease's bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at both the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, and the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital.
This entry was posted in Book Review, books, chapter reading, children's books, E.B. White, Early Education, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

110 Responses to E.B. White, A Personal Invitation, and Charlotte’s Web

  1. My immediate reaction to the photo of E.B. White was “Holy cow! He looks just like the illustrations of Mr. Arable in the book!”

    BTW, I often quote “I’m sorry Avery, but Fern was up at the break of dawn ridding the world of injustice, and I only distribute pigs to early risers” in our house.

    Thank you for this article.

    • Jennie says:

      I love this, Sharon! He really does look like Mr. Arable. Garth Williams must have done that on purpose. BTW, I asked if she had any Garth Williams illustrations. She said no, but Cornell has quite a few. Your quote is a favorite of mine as well. Thank you, and I’m glad you enjoyed this post. 🙂

  2. beetleypete says:

    I can just imagine your joy at the visit; seeing the memorabilia, and the actual typewriter! Hearing the story from his own family was the icing on an already delicious cake.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  3. Wow what an opportunity! That’s pretty neat.

  4. Darlene says:

    How wonderful to meet someone from his family. What a great experience for you. I love the pictures and how he used his relationship with his wife to create a strong bond between the two main characters. Knowing more about the author often gives more meaning to the story.

    • Jennie says:

      All those wonderful stories and memorabilia definitely give the story so much more meaning. Thank you, Darlene. It was truly a treat for me to be there.

  5. Reblogged this on jhohadli and commented:
    If you love Charlotte’s Web like I do, you’ll love this post. Incidentally, I had a conversation with one of my nieces about this book just this week. She’s grown now but when she was a kid she took my copy of Charlotte’s Web from my book shelf and I let her because I wanted to encourage her to read. Of course, she never read it and I never got it back…and I miss it (like I could buy a new one but it wouldn’t be the same). She asked me to rec a book this week; guess which book I recc’d. Is a part of me hoping that she’ll dig up my copy of Charlotte’s Web from where ever the child-version of herself buried it and return it (after reading it of course)? … Maybe.

  6. Wow! This is truly a great post, Jennie! I can’t imagine how you felt during that visit. Thanks for sharing these precious moments.

  7. What an amazing story, Jennie. Charlotte’s Web is a book I have also read a number of times and I just love Wilbur and Charlotte.

  8. Ritu says:

    Oh my! Jennie this is just amazing! From the short while I’ve known you I know how important Charlotte’s Web is to you. How touching to have that personal invitation to see something that means so much to you!!!

  9. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Dan Antion says:

    What a great post. Reading out loud is do much fun. I can understand why this is the favorite every year.

  11. Ellen says:

    What an amazing experience and well deserved honor! I recently began chapter reading with my 4 1/2 yr. old grandson, Benjamin. The book…Charlotte’s Web! I have memories of reading this beloved book with my son and two daughters decades ago. I had to purchase a new copy, as the first copy is worn and falling apart from many years of use. The first copy resides on my oldest daughter’s bookshelf along with her other favorite book, Heidi. Thank-you!

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your kind words and for sharing your own story, Ellen. It is staggering to think of how many people, children and adults, Charlotte’s Web has influenced. What a wonderful thing!

  12. Niki Flow says:

    I so enjoyed this today! Thank you for sharing this lovely and very personal story of EB White and his family. I also really loved reading about how your students came back to thank you, became readers, volunteered. Such beautiful ripples. =) ♥.

  13. Hey Wilbur, looks like you fit right in and felt right at home!
    😉

  14. What an opportunity, and her book sounds wonderful!

  15. AJ says:

    Oh my that must have been amazing!! I read Charlotte’s Web as my last read aloud every year and the children do love it!

  16. Norah says:

    Jennie, that is so awesome. I could hardly read your post for the tears in my eyes. If I felt emotional reading it, I can’t imagine what you felt experiencing it. Such a wonderful book with so many wonderful lessons told in such a heartwarming way. Finding out a little more of the background to Andy and his story makes it all the more special. Thank you for sharing with us this wonderful reward for your efforts in opening the hearts, eyes and minds of children. A memory to treasure forever.

    • Jennie says:

      That is so nice, Norah. Thank you! It was certainly one of my best experiences, adding more depth and meaning to something I treasure. You said it very well! When school begins in the fall, she wants to listen to me as I read Charlotte’s Web to the children. Isn’t that something?

  17. Luanne says:

    Wow! How cool is that! I used to teach Charlotte’s Web a LOT in my college children’s literature course. There are so many wonderful things about that book, most especially SOME PIG!

  18. Thanks for sharing the grand photos of an amazing writer! I also loved that poster of you, Jennie.

  19. What a very special moment for you Jennie. Such a classic story we all grew up with and cherished. Xx

  20. Bernadette says:

    What a treasure to know that White was Wilbur and Charlotte was his wife. Thanks for sharing this experience with us.

  21. Annika Perry says:

    Wow! 😀😀 Jennie, this is a gem of a post!! You are so lucky to have met his grand niece and had a personal tour of the house. I was hooked to your every word. The photos are amazing and so touching to read the personal touch behind the book. I’m just happy I read this book recently which puts the whole visit into context! So happy for you and your joy shines through and is infectious. 😀😀

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much, Annika! It was a glorious event for me, and so personal. I truly appreciate your wonderful words and am glad you enjoyed this. Infectious… I love that! 🙂

  22. Elihu says:

    Well, now when I read this to my seven-year-old in the fall, I’m going to be crying buckets! What an amazing experience for you!

  23. What an experience. I’m jealous but oh so happy for you. Those inside stories really bring the life and goals of writers alive.

    • Jennie says:

      You are so right, Jacqui. And I was lucky to have the experience. When I read the book aloud in September, I will always think of E.B. (Andy) as Wilbur.

  24. oh my! What a wonderful experience-the beloved Charlottes’ Web-oh I am so very glad this happened for you! Now, I will cry more at the last chapter myself! thank you dear Jennie-It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Michele. Much appreciated! It was truly wonderful. When I read the last chapter, I will cry, too. And the children will understand, because we’ll have so much to talk about. Know what I mean? Life is good, and tender.

  25. Well I never knew that. What a brilliant experience.
    I always read ‘I Am David’ to children in my class and however many times I read it I always had tears in my eyes at the end. Books are wonderful and when you find one you love it stays with you forever.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you so much! In all my years of reading the book, I did not know that either. I’m so glad you had the same chance to read a terrific book to children and make a difference. Just wonderful!

  26. Love this!! Charlotte’s Web was my favorite as a kid and in my college children’s lit class I had to do a project on a children’s book for a 20 minute oral presentation. I chose The Trumpet of the Swan and still remember a lot of the research I did on its author. Still one of my favorite college memories 30 years later!

  27. Meg says:

    Skimmed thru your final draft. It sounds much more authoritative and look s better too. Like the Appendices at the back. Really shows what you mean.

    I’m forwarding this blog post about E.B. White author of Charlotte’s Web thought you might be interested in especially the last 5 paragraphs.

    It also came to me after I skimmed your paper that Jenny Wagner may have based the main character in the Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek on a platypus since she had never seen a bunyip.

    Melbourne was great. Lots of good experiences and feelings.

    Three Cheers from Meg

    Meg Philp m.philp2@bigpond.com

    >

  28. What an unforgettable opportunity. Thanks for sharing.

  29. dgkaye says:

    Just wow Jennie. What an incredible experience to be able to meet E.B.’s grand niece and to be surrounded by photos and some of his works, and oh my. the typewriter! What a writer’s dream. Forever etched in your memory. 🙂

  30. Tina Frisco says:

    The thrill of a lifetime, Jennie! Nearly as exciting as stepping through a time portal and meeting the man himself. I can only imagine… ❤️

  31. Léa says:

    An excellent post once again. I so enjoy the photos and backgrounds of the writers and the fact that you are making these introductions. 🙂 You are making some special memories and I do believe a good number of devoted readers.

  32. Wonderful post Jennie and such a testament to your teaching that those you have encouraged to love books, come back as guest readers.. Fantastic. xx

  33. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Tuesday 26th June 2018 – Ritu Bhathal, Janice Spina and Jennie Fitzkee | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  34. AJ says:

    We finished Charlotte’s Web in my class today in preparation for watching the movie tomorrow. We have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and Charlotte’s Web this year and when asked, most students said Charlotte’s Web was their favourite! 🙂 It never fails me

  35. Opher says:

    Charlotte’s Web is such a great book and reading aloud is so important.

  36. mitchteemley says:

    Such a touching backstory, Jennie. And how wonderful to experience it in such an up-close-and-personal way.

  37. kowkla123 says:

    danke für die Info, mache es gut.

  38. ren says:

    I hear ya, Jennie. I too, would love to ‘touch’ that typewriter! It holds the consciousness of the user. Sounds like you ‘felt’ that.
    I am so, very excitedly elated for you! How fulfilling your experience must have been. You are extremely deserving of this, and so much more!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful post!
    Hugz

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Ren. It really felt like connecting such an important piece of what is important. The consciousness of the user… I love those words! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. 🙂

  39. Wow. I love the backstory between Wilbur and Charlotte. I have tingles. It’s one of my favorites that I’m starting to read to my four-year old now.

  40. reocochran says:

    First of all, Jennie I am not surprised about this newest adventure! You are worthy of so much, including your state experience.
    What an amazing treat!! 🎁 📖
    Wow!!
    This is SOME grand invitation!
    💖 🐖🕸️🕷️
    I am going to share this story of how E.B. White (“Andy”) wrote this book about his deep and abiding love for his wife, Katherine (“Charlotte”) with my brother Rich. Not only does he have an older wife but he attended as an undergrad, Cornell University. This is such a super post and I loved the photo of you reading, Jennie! 💟

    They are so sweet, hold hands and took me to see, Anton Chekov’s “The Seagull.” It was much better depicted in film format, by the way.

    • Jennie says:

      I was so moved by the story of Andy and his wife Katherine. I hope your brother enjoys this. And Rich went to Cornell!! Does he know of the collection? Lindsay told me it is displayed there from time to time. Many thanks, Robin. I will have another visit there this summer. Also, she wants to come and hear me read Charlotte’s Web to the children this fall at school! Many thanks, and good to hear from you. ❤️

  41. What a special time you’ve had! Charlotte’s Web is one of my favorite books, too, and I’m always recommending that particular audio version. To hear E. B. White read it himself is truly magical. The last time I listened, I thought about how many times it took him to record that last chapter, and it brought him and his story to life even more. Very special to touch his typewriter and nice to know a little bit more about his relationship with Katherine, too. Another great post, Jennie!

    • Jennie says:

      I love reading your comments, Marcia. Thank you! I had never heard the E.B. White recording of Charlotte’s Web before. While I was surprised at how he read the words, it was magical to hear him read the book. Then, learning that he was Wilber and Katherine was Charlotte put all the pieces together. Lindsay wants to come to school and hear me read Charlotte’s Web to the children this fall. That’s terrific. Have you read Melissa Sweet’s book, Some Writer? It is terrific! I’m so glad you enjoyed this post, Marcia.

  42. Mireya says:

    oh this is awesome thanks for sharing.

  43. sharann says:

    I had never heard of the connection between Wilbur and Charlotte and E.B. and his wife. I feel like I need to go back and re-read the book now. So sweet. Thanks for sharing!

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