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Kid Stuff: Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White wrote humor with James Thurber, and edited one of the most influential style manuals of all time. But he'll always be best remembered for Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. Uploaded by images.allmoviephoto.com.

Isn’t it strange how one writer can produce works in several vastly different genres? E.B. White was a humorist (he co-wrote a parody of Freud called Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do, with the great James Thurber) and a linguist (students are familiar with his The Elements of Style). But he’s best remembered as the writer of two immortal children’s books: Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte’s Web (1952).

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You know the basic story. When Wilbur the pet pig was in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, the crafty spider Charlotte saved him by spinning comments into her webs. Indeed, he goes to the county fair with Charlotte and wins a prize. And why not, since he was “Radiant,” “Terrific,” and “Some Pig.” White’s publishers were worried about the ending, and prodded him to change it. Fortunately for kids of all ages, he didn’t.

Reviewing Charlotte’s Web for the New York Times, Eudora Welty wrote, “As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.” The book was nominated for the Newberry Medal in 1953, but didn’t win. Go figure. The public, however, has shown better taste. It’s the best-selling children’s book of all time, according to Publisher’s Weekly. And awards came White’s way as well. For Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for children’s literature.

Here’s a great excerpt from the book, a conversation between Charlotte and Wilbur:

“You mean you eat flies?” gasped Wilbur.

“Certainly. Flies, bugs, grasshoppers, choice beetles, moths, butterflies, tasty cockroaches, gnats, midgets, daddy-long-legs, centipedes, mosquitoes, crickets – anything that is careless enough to get caught in my web. I have to live, don’t I?”

“Why, yes, of course,” said Wilbur. “Do they taste good”

“Delicious. Of course, I don’t really eat them. I drink them – drink their blood. I love blood.”

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