Every year I start chapter reading with my preschool class on ‘day one’. And, the first book I read is Charlotte’s Web. We have barely had three weeks of school and children are totally hooked. They adore Wilbur and laugh at the goose repeating words three times. They trust Charlotte. They have met Templeton the rat, and learned of Wilbur’s fate. When Charlotte’s demise looked imminent in the hands of Avery’s big stick, there were gasps.
I am reading to three and four-year-olds about the beauty of life and the fear of death, about morals (and lack thereof), and about friendships (and lack thereof). That sounds pretty sophisticated for preschoolers, but leave it to the beautifully crafted words of E.B. White.
Twilight settled over Zuckerman’s barn, and a feeling of peace. Fern knew it was almost suppertime but she couldn’t bear to leave. Swallows passed on silent wings, in and out of the doorways, bringing food to their young ones. From across the road a bird sang “Whippoorwill, whippoorwill!” Lurvy sat down under an apple tree and lit his pipe; the animals sniffed the familiar smell of strong tobacco. Wilbur heard the trill of a tree toad and the occasional slamming of the kitchen door. All these sounds made him feel comfortable and happy, for he loved life, and loved to be part of the world on a summer evening.
We often underestimate children. Their brains are absorbing the world around them like a giant sponge. Let’s give them the world through words, the best words written. I tell the children – with great fanfare and passion – “The words in the story go into your ears and then into your brain, and you make the pictures in your head.”
That’s just what happens, every day at chapter reading.
The beauty of Charlotte’s Web comes from learning about the world, and about every feeling that is important in order to grow into a good person. Goodness and knowledge, all on a farm.
I had a pleasant surprise; my hardcopy of Charlotte’s Web is of course at school. As I typed this post, I needed a copy of the book in order to type E.B. White’s words from page 62. Surely I had another copy of the book here at home. I did! As I opened the book, this is what I saw:
Thank you, Gabriel. You are now in high school, doing very well. Whenever you visit (once or twice a year), it means the world to me. And today I found the book you gave me. You loved Charlotte’s Web. That book went straight to your heart, and I know your heart wanted to give me something when you left my class and moved on to kindergarten. From my heart to yours, thank you!