I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte's Web, high up in Zuckerman's barn. Charlotte's spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur's life when he was born the runt of his litter.
***Wanda’s Summer Carnival of Children’s Literature***
I distinctly remember my grade one teacher, Doris Wright, reading Charlotte’s Web to us, a chapter or two per day. I suspect there was some snivelling when we reached the end of the tale.
Boy, could I identify with the main human character, Fern. I grew up on a small farm like the ones in the book (without the work horses—we used tractors during my childhood) and it was primarily a hog farm. I was very familiar with how sweet baby pigs are. In fact, when children came to visit, my mom would assemble her camera and some old towels and we would head to the pig barn. She would scoop up a piglet in a towel, hand it to a child, and photograph the proceedings. That cute little round snout on a piglet is irresistible to a child—we have many photos of kids kissing piglets right on the snout! Mostly, however, we didn’t spend much time getting to know the pigs—they would be leaving after they were weaned, sold on to farmers who would raise them to market weight. Not a good idea to get too attached.
I also had a spider phobia as a child (which has thankfully subsided as I’ve aged) and I do remember Charlotte being an example that I told myself about, trying to convince myself that spiders were not the horrible creatures that I had imagined them to be.
Like Fern, I spend many happy hours in the barn, watching chickens, pigs, cows and horses. In fact, when I was about 3, my uncle gave me some duck eggs and a Bantam hen to incubate them. She hatched four ducklings from the eggs (and was quite distressed when her charges went swimming in mud puddles) and those ducks lived for many years! They would stand and quack at us when we were playing baseball if they wanted to cross the yard for some reason. When we paused the game, the ducks would quickly waddle across, as if they didn’t want to hold up play for very long.
Farms have changed so much! Not just horses being replaced by tractors, but the mixed use family farm being lost in favour of large, single purpose farms. Wheat farms, chicken farms, intensive hog farms, cattle feed lots, etc. Fewer children learn to milk cows, gather eggs, and weed gardens. I feel like mine was an idyllic childhood and I’m so glad I grew up when I did.
Charlotte’s Web was a great exercise in nostalgia for me, remembering all those wonderful childhood details.