Reading Charlotte's Web Part II

Read part I here.

Reading Chapter 2 - Wilbur

  But wait—it gets cuter.  In chapter one we all agreed that Fern feeding Wilbur a bottle was rather cute, but this chapter brought us a picture of Wilbur and the baby doll in the carriage together--nothing but adorable.  Again, we all agreed on that, and were caught up in the daily life of Fern tending to her little pig.  When Fern’s at school her mother takes care of the pig, but would raising your own little baby doll pig work in the post-1950s era of mom not being available mid-day for a pig feeding?  Well, I guess that’s what Tamagotchis are for.

 As I read aloud this chapter called "Wilbur," I thought of the last time I read Charlotte’s Web with my class—and looked up from reading to take a student’s comment.  “Wilbur?” I said.  “I mean—uh, Richard?”  Richard had taken it pretty well that I had just called him by a pig’s name, but I was a bit punchy after that and had to work hard to read with a straight face.

  At the end of this chapter, we left the idyllic world of Fern raising and anthropomorphizing the baby pig to the harsh reality (one of many within Charlotte’s Web--so get used to it, children) of having to sell him because he was eating too much.  Fern did get $6 out of the deal, certainly much more impressive a sum in 1952 dollars than in 2010 dollars—but wait, they’re kids.  $6 probably does seem like a hefty chunk of change even by today’s rates.   

  So for the price of $6, Wilbur is sold and goes to live on a farm in a manure pile.  For those kids who didn’t know what manure was, Dwan explained.  Of course they were thrilled to learn the meaning of the word manure, and I assume that nearly all of the students' internal monologues were going like this:  "That’s poop.  Eww!  Wilbur lives in poop!  Poop!  Manure!  Eww!"

Reading Chapter 3 - Escape

  We found ourselves in a richly described barn---“the kind of barn that children like to play in.”  Well, yes, if my city kids knew that barns, as a setting for playing, were an option that existed in the world, it would probably be the kind of barn they’d like to play in.  E.B. White described the “wonderful sweet breath of patient cows,” and we all just had to take his word on that.  Neither the kids nor I knew the purportedly wonderful smell of the breath of cows –patient or otherwise, but we do know the smell of the 24-hour tire shop next door and of the 92 bus passing by.

   The author’s description of “all sorts of things you find in barns” was rather entertaining.  “What are those crazy words?” the students seemed to be thinking as I read off the list.  “Grindstones, pitch forks, monkey wrenches, scythes, lawn mowers, snow shovels, ax handles, milk pails, water buckets, empty grain sacks, and rusty rat traps.”  Thought most of those terms were certainly rather unfamiliar, it’s not surprising which one generated the most most imaginative mental images and the most questions--monkey wrench.  We as adults (or any of the farmhands out there) don't think anything of the name of this tool, but yeah, I can see how the third graders wouldn’t be listening to anything after that word hit the airwaves.  Just picturing monkeys using wrenches, or a monkey-shaped wrench, or giggling about the word monkey.  I mean, monkey wrenches are just asking for giggles.

  Poor Wilbur was getting really bored, but then BAM!  Enter the goose and her delightful speech patterns.  She describes the “dirty-little, dirty-little, dirty-little yard” and not long after we embarked upon an exciting adventure of the momentarily escaped and then ultimately tackled pig.  The pig chase scene, of course, required a frenzy of fast reading aloud and I was practically out of breath once he was finally caught.  Phew!


Sarah said...

These city kids really need to take a field trip to a barn somewhere :). I remember explaining "fertilizer" to my third graders one year.... boy that was fun!

Jeanette Levellie said...

I read Charlotte's Web to my own kids when they were small, and we all loved it.

Although we enjoyed the movie, using our imaginations for the barnyard, the fair, and Templeton the rat, trumped Hollywood's version of the story.

You get a trophy for reading to your students. I'll be they adore you!

Millie said...

I remember reading this one year to a group of little boys in my EBD class. One particular tough (really tough!) little boy had never heard the story and was mesmerized each day as a chapter was read after lunch. When we got to the part where Charlotte died he was extremely upset and cried! He was truly heart broken. I saw a sweet and tender side to that little boy that day.

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