Charlotte’s Web: Living Literature Unit Study

Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Harper Collins, 1952) is a lovely story of friendship between a lonely pig and a gentle spider. The story begins when a young girl named Fern rescues a runt pig and names him Wilbur. Wilbur and Fern spend long hours playing together. However, Wilbur begins to grow and is moved to her uncle’s farmyard. Wilbur, lonely for companionship there, meets an eloquent spider named Charlotte.

Trouble begins to brew when Wilbur discovers that he is dinner for the holidays. He despairs, but Charlotte promises to save him. Soon, words mysteriously begin to appear, written in spider thread in the doorframe above Wilbur’s pen. Wilbur becomes a celebrity as people come from miles around to see him and the mysterious web.

Character-building Lessons

Charlotte’s Web is rich with character-building lessons. For instance, Fern shows compassion when she saves Wilbur, and the charming rescue scene sets the tone for the book. Fern’s behavior is especially poignant in contrast to the inconsiderate behavior of her brother, Avery, whose excitement and thoughtlessness endanger Charlotte’s life.

This is also a touching tale of friendship, loyalty, and love between Wilbur and Charlotte. Templeton the rat and Charlotte present contrasting personalities. While Templeton is mean, gluttonous, and lazy, Charlotte is industrious, sacrificial, and gentle. Charlotte’s quiet perseverance ultimately saves Wilbur’s life.

Lessons about Words

The story provides many opportunities for teaching children the power of words. Templeton’s words, for instance, frighten and frustrate the animals around him. The repetitious words of the gander annoy all within hearing. By contrast, the eloquent and wise words of Charlotte comfort, encourage, and instruct.

The words that Charlotte patiently spins in her web demonstrate the power of the tongue. These simple words cause great excitement, set off an unexpected chain of events, and ultimately save Wilbur’s life. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Charlotte understands the power of a few well-placed words and chooses them carefully.

Comprehension Questions

Children will be delighted by this lovely story, beautifully told through the clear and captivating style of White. His descriptions, characters, and setting help weave a timeless tale that both children and adults can appreciate. Enrich your children’s understanding of Charlotte’s Web by the following questions:

  • What is a runt?
  • Why was Fern’s mother worried about her?
  • What was Fern’s favorite ride at the fair?
  • How many eggs did the goose lay?
  • What occurrence saved Charlotte’s life from Avery?

Activities

Your entire family can continue to enjoy the story of Charlotte’s Web through the following activities:

  • Hunt for spider webs very early in the morning.
  • Look for a spider living on your porch or in your garage. Observe it for a few days.
  • Attend the local county fair.
  • Visit a local farm and watch the animals, as Fern did.
  • Create more adjectives that Charlotte could have woven to describe Wilbur.

By Emily Adams

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Emily Adams is the oldest of nine, a 2004 homeschool graduate, and a 2007 graduate of Belhaven College. In addition to freelance writing, she teaches writing, literature, and Latin online. When not working, Emily loves to read, play the piano, and spend time outdoors with her family.

—Originally published in the “God’s Word Does Not Return Void” issue (May/June 2009) of Homeschooling Today magazine

 

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