The Life Giving Power Of Words: Day 1

Charlotte’s Web
E.B. White

Fern came slowly down the stairs. Her eyes were red from crying. As she approached her chair, the carton wobbled, and there was a scratching noise. Fem looked at her father. Then she lifted the lid of the car­ton. There, inside, looking up at her, was the newborn pig. It was a white one. The morning light shone through its ears, turning them pink.

“He’s yours,” said Mr. Arable. “Saved from an un­timely death. And may the good Lord forgive me for this foolishness.”

Fern couldn’t take her eyes off the tiny pig. “Oh,” she whispered. “Oh, look at him! He’s absolutely perfect.”


What began as a humble children’s story in 1952 has since become (according to Publisher’s Weekly) the best-selling paperback of all time.  The power of the story resides with the creatures and the eternal truths that can be gleaned through their simple interactions. In many ways, childhood pets are likewise great teachers for children.  Their lessons include the giving and receiving of unconditional love, the importance of nurture and a context to understand life’s beginning and end.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

Having all my life had animals who, whether they slept on the bed or in the barn, were considered part of the family, I’ve always lamented the particular poverty of children raised without pets. Learning responsibility by taking care of these fellow members of the created order was one of my parents’ many gifts to me. I’ve no doubt that the greatest richness of a deeply rich childhood came—along with the love of my parents and the love of books—from the love of animals. These three things are so intertwined that it is difficult, if not impossible, for me to separate for very long, any single thread in the tapestry of my childhood.

What role did animals or pets have in your childhood? What role do they have now?

Isaiah 40:11

He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


E.B. White and Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White

(1899–1985). Although his publications range from three well-known children’s books to numerous essays, books, and poems for adults, E.B. White’s works consistently display eloquent craftsmanship and a keen sense of observation.

Elwyn Brooks White was born on July 11, 1899, in Mount Vernon, New York. He attended Cornell University on a scholarship and served as editor in chief of its daily newspaper. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in English in 1921, he worked for the United Press, the American Legion News Service, and the Seattle Times. He took a job as a mess boy aboard an Alaskan ship in 1923 but returned to Mount Vernon later in the year to work in an advertising agency.

The founding of The New Yorker magazine in 1925 proved pivotal to White’s career. After having several submissions accepted, he joined the staff full-time in 1927. He married one of the editors, Katharine Sergeant Angell, in 1929 and became stepfather to her two children; a son was born to them the following year. Although the couple later left New York for a Maine farm, White remained a lifelong contributor to the magazine. He also wrote a monthly column entitled “One Man’s Meat” for Harper’s magazine from 1938 to 1943.

White’s publications for adults included The Lady Is Cold (1929), Is Sex Necessary? (1929, with James Thurber), Farewell to Model T (1936), The Fox of Peapack and Other Poems (1938), The Wild Flag (1946), The Second Tree from the Corner (1954), and The Points of My Compass (1962). Letters of E.B. White was published in 1976, and a collection of his essays appeared a year later. White also contributed to and revised several editions of William Strunk Jr.’s classic writer’s manual, The Elements of Style.

White’s first children’s book was Stuart Little (1945), an adventure story about a two-inch-(5-centimeter-)tall, mouselike son born to average human parents. White followed the success of that book with Charlotte’s Web (1952), winner of the 1958 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and runner-up for the 1953 Newbery Medal. The book tells of a small pig whose life is spared twice, first by a farmer’s daughter and later by the ingenuity of a friendly spider. White drew inspiration for the tale from observing his own farm animals. The book was adapted into an animated film in 1972. White’s final children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), chronicles the life of a mute trumpeter swan who learns to communicate by writing on a slate and by playing a trumpet. It was nominated for the National Book Award in 1971 and was included on the 1972 International Board on Books for Young People Honor List.

White received a multitude of honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (1970), and the National Medal for Literature (1971). In 1978 he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for his body of work. White died in Maine on October 1, 1985.

Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Charlotte’s Web

A children’s novel by E.B. White, published in 1952, with illustrations by Garth Williams. This widely read tale, which is one of the classics of children’s literature, takes place on a farm in Maine and concerns a pig named Wilbur and his devoted friend Charlotte, the spider who manages to save his life by writing words in her web. White’s own life on a farm contributed to the tranquil, pastoral setting of the book and the careful observations of animal behaviour. The novel explores, among other things, the nature of friendship, a theme many adults as well as children have appreciated.

Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2016).

 

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.