Family life

Anna discovers Charlotte's Web

Tracy has been reading with her girls since their baby days and is now relishing the chance to dive into the classics.

By Tracy Chappell
Anna discovers Charlotte's Web

Cover image courtesy of Indigo Books

Yesterday, Anna and I turned the final page of Charlotte’s Web. We even stayed up half an hour past her bedtime because Anna said she wouldn’t be able to sleep without finding out what happened in the end.
SPOILER ALERT (is it silly to say that for a children’s classic?): I cried at the end, when Charlotte, the wise and wonderful spider who saved a runt pig’s life, died. Anna found this very amusing and started laughing at me, which made me cry more.
I had forgotten how this story played out before we began and as we went along, I wondered how Anna would process all the talk of killing farm animals and Charlotte’s eventual demise. She had lots of questions, of course, but I think it was very educational for her in a worldly way, which is the great thing about books, isn’t it? I knew she would love the story and it brought back lots of memories for me, remembering how much I loved it when I was a young girl. Even the long, rambling paragraphs and lack of photos didn’t dampen her enthusiasm (though she did love the pages that had illustrations). Anna said to me as she wiped a tear from my eye, “You don’t have to cry, Mom. Just be happy that Charlotte and Wilbur found each other and became such good friends.” I was happy to see that she understood the heart of the matter, which she so often does.
Anna is such an energetic and boisterous kid that our time spent with books — quiet, cuddly time followed by imaginative, thoughtful conversation — is a real connector for us. She gets so wrapped up in the stories and characters, with that “what’s going to happen next?” and “puleese, just one more chapter?” excitement (she even skims ahead to try to read things or find a picture to see what’s going to happen. I told her that was cheating!). And as soon as we’re done, she’s asking what book is next.
For the first time, we had the whole read-the-book then watch-the-movie experience. The VHS version we had in the basement was actually older than me, but it still worked. I had no idea it was a musical (which Anna loved) and, wouldn’t you know it, Anna teared up a little at the end. “I really cared a lot about Charlotte, you know,” she said.
I know we always think they grow up too fast, but this is one of my very favourite things about my kids getting older. I look forward to starting on longer books with Avery (who already says, “I want to read a chapter book tonight!”) so I can have the pleasure of exploring new worlds with her unique perspective.
Speaking of what’s next, I’ll have to figure that out. Any suggestions? I was thinking about Anne of Green Gables, but maybe should try something more modern?
How many of you read to your kids every night, and how old were they when they stopped wanting you to? I keep forgetting that one day Anna will want to read on her own and I hope it’s not before we get the chance to read the Harry Potter series together!

This article was originally published on May 22, 2012

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