Starting the School Year Reading Charlotte’s Web

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!

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 chapter reading, children's books, E.B. White, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, Learning About the World, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

72 Responses to Starting the School Year Reading Charlotte’s Web

  1. beth says:

    what a great beginning book

  2. Gabriel sounds such a sweetheart, what a lovely reminder.

  3. great way to start the love of chapter books. I was just thinking I need to start reading chapter books to my class this year. I’m teaching the preschoolers (3-4 year olds) I love getting children engaged in chapter books as it allows them to develop imagery

    • Jennie says:

      I hope you chapter read! As you know, the hearing vessel is far more sophisticated than the reading or speaking vessel. So, chapter reading works with preschoolers! I turn out the lights.

  4. Such a heartwarming post–that and now I want to spend the day reading!

  5. From my heart to yours I can only say thank you for inspiring another generation of readers and kind and generous humans. You change the world, know it or not. It’s the butterfly effect. Have my DVR set up to tape you. Even my daughter wants to watch. I’ll mention it to ‘others’.

    • Jennie says:

      That’s so kind, Marlene. Thank you! Of course I don’t remember most of what I said, but if I spread the word on reading aloud, then life is good. I believe in the butterfly effect. Any opportunity, one child at a time, I read aloud. Even on the plane to LA! That’s cool that your DIL wants to watch.

  6. beetleypete says:

    The joy of that book will never die. It has captured the heart of so many generations already.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  7. quiall says:

    I love that book! When I read it as a child I understood it differently than I did as an adult. Each time it was a learning experience and a good one.

    • Jennie says:

      I know exactly what you mean and how you feel. Every September when I read the book to children, I find something new, words that I hadn’t fully appreciated. It never gets old.

  8. Don Ostertag says:

    It is a shame Mr. White can’t read this wonderful post, Jennie. I do hope Gabriel reads it.

    • Jennie says:

      Thank you, Don. I have often thought about that. Whenever I’m reading the book aloud, there are words Andy (EB’s nickname) wrote… that make me hope he is hearing me read this aloud. I guess that’s the next best thing to Andy reading my blog post.

      His grandniece lives nearby, and she has invited me over many times. She’s the keeper of his records. I typed on his Underwood typewriter. That was a moment I will never forget.

  9. bosssybabe says:

    This made me tear up 😭❤️ you have such a special connection with your students 😊… My daughters first and middle name is Charlotte Avery 😊

  10. Jim Borden says:

    one of th great things about teaching is staying in touch with your former students. and hwo wonderful to instill a love of reading in such young children…

  11. A wonderful post, Jennie. Thank you. Gabriel is a special kid.

  12. CarolCooks2 says:

    A wonderful start to the new year and a beautiful choice of book for chapter reading…culminating in your rediscovery of Gabriel’s gift… how lovely 🙂 x

  13. Markie Doczi says:

    This is precious! You know, as much as I love to read- and as much as I adore the movies- I have never read that book! I even bought the book/movie combo for my sister’s kids last Christmas. I’m going to have to make sure I read it 🙂
    I’m currently making my way through the Anne of Green Gables series.

    • Jennie says:

      I saw a few clips of the movie…there is no way it comes even close to the words of E.B. White. I hope you read the book! Anne of Green Gables is excellent.

  14. Dan Antion says:

    Each year, you start a series of reliable journeys for another lucky classroom. I think I understand why Gabriel comes back.

  15. Elizabeth says:

    The deepest theology came when my daughter was three, so I understand your viewpoint. My favorite statement of fact from her was “back in the beginning when everyone was in someone’s stomach.” Beats the big bang for sure.

  16. Terrific! 🕷Have a wonderful week!

  17. petespringerauthor says:

    I think you already know how I feel about this book. I read it to my class, whatever grade (2-6) I happened to be teaching that year. I can imagine all the interesting discussions you will have with your students as it is such an engaging read. Perfect thoughts about how adults can underestimate children.

  18. Seems you are having pure fun at school, Jennie! Have a nice weekend! xx Michael

  19. What do kids think about Wilbur potentially becoming dinner? We have this strange dichotomy in kids’ literature where animals are both loved and eaten.

  20. dgkaye says:

    I know that’s one of your favs for beginning books. ❤

  21. My favorite book as a child, Jennie, and it’s great to see you starting every school year with this treasure. So much life, love, and kindness in that book. And an adorable gift from Gabriel. Awww, so cute.

  22. Annika Perry says:

    Jennie, what lucky preschoolers! 😀 I had to wait until l recently when you introduced me to ‘Charlotte’s Web’ to read it, letting the words form pictures in my mind, my heart lost in the story! Your pupils have years and years to enjoy re-reading the book from this most precious and special introduction to it.

  23. My favorite childhood book

  24. Darlene says:

    How sweet that a student gave you a copy of the book she loved so much. We must never underestimate children. xo

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