I suppose it’s theoretically possible that you have 1) not read Charlotte’s Web and 2) don’t want the plot spoiled, so I will warn you now, I give away the major plot elements of the book in this post. So go somewhere else. Maybe you can go buy the book.
We first tried to read Thomas chapter books when he was three. It worked for about a week before he lost interest. He was too little to handle the long chapters full of nothing but words. He spent most of the time asking questions about the various pictures that were included at the beginning of each chapter. We put the book down and didn’t pick it back up again.
Recently we decided to try again. In retrospect it’s clear we could have come back to chapter books much sooner. It might have spared us many nights of reading and rereading long tedious books about dinosaurs. But then, Thomas’ love and knowledge of dinosaurs is one of his many endearing qualities. So perhaps it was all for the best. Either way, we returned to fiction chapter books by starting with the classic Charlotte’s Web. Where else, really?
We knew we were treading into unknown territory with this book. We weren’t sure how Thomas would react to the threat of death hanging over Wilbur’s head or the ultimate demise of his best friend. We knew that he could survive. We just didn’t know how much trauma the story would inflict.
The first sign of trouble came when the suggestion that Wilbur might be eaten for Christmas dinner was first made in the book.
“But he’s not going to get eaten,” Thomas said forcefully and then looked at me for confirmation. This is generally how Thomas confronts fear. When he says “but that won’t happen,” what he’s saying is, “I don’t want that to happen, I hope that doesn’t happen, please tell me that it won’t.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “We have to read the rest of the book to see what happens.”
And so we did. Of course, Wilbur does not die because Charlotte saves his life. Instead, it is Charlotte who dies. When Charlotte started to fatigue and it was suggested that her time was coming to an end, Thomas said, “but she’s not tired because she’s old. She’s just tired from the trip from the farm to the fair. Yeah, it was a long trip.”
This denial of what was clearly happening had Liz and I slightly worried about how Thomas would react when she finally died. The night we read the chapter in which Charlotte passes, he became very agitated as the chapter progressed. He squirmed and bounced about on our bed as Charlotte declared that she was “done for.” In the book, Wilbur is frantic when he realizes Charlotte is dying and will not return to the farm with him. He is desperate to get her egg sac so that he can take it with him back to the farm. He succeeds, with the help of Templeton the rat. He then is loaded into his crate. He says a silent goodbye to his friend and leaves her at the fairgrounds.
The chapter ends with a beautiful but very sad description of her death. The final sentence is, “No one was with her when she died.” As I read those words Thomas was quiet and still. I closed the book for a moment and turned to him and said, “what happened?”
“Charlotte died,” he said. “But Wilbur took her egg sac back to the farm.”
“And how do you feel about that?”
“Well, it’s sad that Charlotte died, but it’s good that her babies won’t be born alone.”