I have a lot of fictional female heroes and truth be told, many of them are from television: Tami Taylor, Leslie Knope, Liz Lemon, Brenda Leigh Johnson. Of course others are from books like August Boatwright in The Secret Life of Bees, Hermione Granger in Harry Potter Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. This week I started taking a class called Literature for Older Children and we were assigned to read Charlotte’s Web. For a few years, the 8th grade curriculum included a unit on rereading childhood favorites, and Charlotte’s Web was one of the texts, so I’ve become closely reacquainted with it–and what I believe is E.B. White’s perfect writing style.
She is quiet, fierce, unapologetic about who she is, and yet so kind. She is a fellow introvert, not afraid to tell Wilbur when she is tired and needs to be alone. I love White’s description of her on page 41, after she has shocked Wilbur with the description of her eating habits: “Underneath her rather bold and cruel exterior, she had a kind heart, and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end.” Sigh.
I hear White’s wisdom in the closing statements of “Last Day” on page 171: “Nobody, of the hundred of people that had visited the fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all.” Sigh. And then it’s so heart wrenching that “No one was with her when she died”—and yet, I feel confident knowing that she was strong and secure. It never ceases to amaze me how much meaning can be packed into a children’s book. And as I look out on a snowy Brooklyn thinking about my upcoming move to not only a new apartment and new chapter of life, I believe I will finish my coffee and reflect a while on all that White had to say in the story about seasons. Sigh.