What would you do if a beloved book, rich in meaning and literature, were to be banned, gone forever? Would you vow to memorize the book in order to save it? I would. When Charles French, a professor of English Literature, formed a society at Lehigh University in his English 2 class for the purpose of appreciating all books – especially those that have been banned over the years – I knew this was more than a brilliant idea. Much like the storyline in Fahrenheit 451, the members of the U.L.S. (Underground Library Society) pick a book to save, if books were banned.
The society has now grown well beyond the boarders of Lehigh. I chose to champion classic children’s books. Thank you for including me in the U.L.S. I am giving a shoutout to readers to become a member and tell the world about your favorite book, and why you would save it, if it were banned. Here is my story, in two parts:
First, I picked a banned book, The Story of Little Babaji. You may be familiar with the original title, Little Black Sambo.
The book was written by Helen Bannerman in 1899 after her many years in India. Who doesn’t remember the tigers running around the tree and turning into butter! Unfortunately the story has been rewritten over the years depicting the South and blacks. That wasn’t the original intention of the author. Most importantly, it is a wonderful book, a classic. It needs to be preserved, and I vow to do that.
Secondly, I must step up to the plate and vow to memorize and preserve Charlotte’s Web, by E.B. White. This book is most important. It encompasses all that is meaningful: friendship, overcoming fear, acceptance of others, learning about the world and the marvels of nature, hard work, bravery, life and death, promises… it’s a long list, and a good list.
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.
Every year I start chapter reading with my preschool class on ‘day one’. And, the first book I read is Charlotte’s Web. In barely three weeks of school 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 read 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.
“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”
“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows, anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
These are the the words, stories, and ideals in a book that needs to never be forgotten. Charlotte’s Web is important to everyone, adults and children alike. I never tire of reading this book aloud. Children love it, as do adults. This classic book will be my contribution to the Underground Library Society.