'In Character' On the Air

On Air: Charlotte A. Cavatica

» Hear the 'All Things Considered' essay

Illustrator Garth Williams told the author of The Annotated Charlotte's Web that E.B. White himself amended Williams' concept for Charlotte, which had originally been based on arachnological illustrations:"He put two dots on the edge of her face looking down and put 3 strokes to suggest hair on the top of her head."The effect worked, Williams conceded, and Charlotte became a likable heroine without being recognizably anthropomorphic -- "but I contend [White] cheated." Garth Williams/HarperCollins hide caption

itoggle caption Garth Williams/HarperCollins

Baltimore, Md., librarian Fran Glick was the NPR.org user whose essay about Charlotte A. Cavatica caught our attention back in February.

Now, from All Things Considered host Melissa Block, comes this on-air appreciation of the elegant, if complicated, arachnid at the center of Charlotte's Web.

Block talks to the granddaughter and stepson of author E.B. White — and to the author of The Annotated Charlotte's Web — about how much painstaking research went into the creation of the character.

And about how adults and children differ in their reactions to her story.

The producer of the 1970 audiobook edition talks about White's own "ridiculous" reaction when he tried to record the book's infinitely sad closing sequence.

(What was your reaction as a kid? How does it affect you now? Share your Charlotte stories in the comments.)

And it wouldn't be an 'In Character' story without some extras, so you can hear White himself read a passage from the book. It's all over here on the story page.

Enjoy.

Comments

 

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The first time I read the book I cried, I was nine.

The first time I read the book to my daughter, she was three. She didn't get it.

The second time I read the book to my daughter, she was eight and she was inconsolable.

She now saves spiders in our house. Charlotte and Wilbur, and E.B. White, I audaciously presume, would be proud.

Your story touched me.

Sent by Sarah S. | 7:59 PM | 8-4-2008

If there is one thing that for me is physically impossible, it would be to either read the text or listen to the death scene in the animated film.

Indeed, Charlotte's death scene in the original animated film it guaranteed to make me cry. But there is no sadness in those tears - merely longing.

Sent by Kristine Maitland | 9:13 PM | 8-4-2008

Charlotte,but was another NPR driveway moment. It would have nice had you been able to tie in, in someway, the recent "New Yorker" article by Jill Lepore, "The Lion and the Mouse" and Anne Carroll Moore's role in both stimulating EB White to write the tale and then her attampts to ban the book.

Sent by Peter Caldwell | 9:15 PM | 8-4-2008

The most wonderful story. I had the once in a lifetime oppurtunity to tour White's farm (quite by accident)last June and see the barn where Charlotte spun her magic and the tiny boathouse where White worked his.

Sent by Scott Mulrooney | 9:34 PM | 8-4-2008

I loved your story on "Charlotte's Web." I felt as though I were eight years old again, curled up under a pink quilt, weeping right along with White (and Ms. Block) at the story's sad conclusion....

Sent by Jessica Harper | 10:27 PM | 8-4-2008

Thank-you for the great segment on E.B. White and his very special Charotte. I had a smile on my face as I listened to every word about my favorite childhood book. I also enjoyed the touching poem that E.B. White wrote to his new bride.

Sent by Carla Wilson | 10:53 PM | 8-4-2008

Charlotte's Web was written the year I was born. I never read it as a child but when I was preparing to teach elementary school. I would read it to my third graders. It took us a few weeks and was the highlight of all my lessons. There before me was a class of 31 urban students crying along with me every year when Charlotte died her heroic death.
Thank you for the lovely story...I loved the poem at the end.

Sent by Maury Lyon | 11:45 PM | 8-4-2008

I sat in the grocery store parking lot crying, as I listened to EB White read the last moments of Charlotte yesterday. It was comforting to find that the writer himself felt the same way as all his readers. Thank you.

Sent by Tiffany Campbell | 7:37 AM | 8-5-2008

I was driving from Fort Worth to Abilene when this story came on and cried as I heard of E. B. White's 17 attempts to read aloud the passage where Charlotte dies. I spent much of the rest of the drive in silence, thinking of love and loss in my own life as well as tender thoughts of reading to my children when they were little. Thank you for a powerful, moving story!

Sent by Janine Lund | 10:13 AM | 8-5-2008

"Charlotte's Web" is the very first book that I have a distinct (make that indelible! I just don't remember clearly how old I was...8?) memory of reading and it was the very first book that ever made me cry. I believe it is distinctly responsible for my penchant for leaving spiders at peace when they made their abode in our house (and I would even find big, fat flies to feed them!) "Charlotte's Web" has inspired me to another "first" as this is the first time I have ever responded to a blog or comment space. Interestingly enough I am in the midst of rereading "Charlotte's Web" at the age of 8 X 4. I'm on Chapter XIII, "Good Progress". Do yourself a favor and reread the book!

Sent by Elsa | 10:56 AM | 8-5-2008

This story was a perennial favorite on my bookshelf as a child. And yes, I cried every time (I clearly remember my mother always being surprised to find me reading it again...and crying again). I have a daughter named Charlotte, who is two, and my much-loved copy of Charlotte's Web is sitting in her room awaiting the day when I get to share the wonder of E.B. White's storytelling with her.

Sent by Erin W. | 2:30 PM | 8-5-2008

Every spring I read Charlottes Web to my class, just as my 2nd grade teacher had done for me. Each year, I cry as I rediscover the depth of Charlotte's sacrifice and the wisdom of her guidance. Charlotte's Web is the Bhagavad Gita for children. It teaches how to live one's life with courage and integrity, but most of all with love.

Sent by Diane Emerson MacInnes | 12:59 AM | 8-7-2008

This story took me way back. I had spent about three nights reading "Charlotte's Web" to my youngest son, Daniel, and my daughter, Mikel. When I reached the part where Charlotte dies, my voice, just like everyone else's, faltered, but I got through the story. By a bizarre coincidence, the next morning, while were eating breakfast, we heard on NPR that E.B. White had passed away! It wasn't until week later when I went to parent-teacher conferences that Mikel's Kindergarten teacher informed me that she entered the classroom one morning crying. When her teacher asked her why she was crying, she said that E.B. White had died. (I'm sure she was, in truth, crying for Charoltte.) The teacher then went on to explain that she also started to cry and the entire Kindergarten class looked on bewildered while she and Mikel held each other and had a good cry.

Sent by Marie Szyman | 10:11 AM | 8-7-2008

I too had to sit in the driveway to hear the whole segment so wonderfully presented. I loved this book as a child, and your story inspired me to take both my kids (7 and 4 years old)out the next day to buy a copy. They weren't very interested in listening the first night, but by the second night couldn't wait to get in their jammies and hear a few more chapters. Thank you for providing such a wonderful background and reminding me of this terrific story!

Sent by Elizabeth Linnell | 2:02 PM | 8-7-2008

It was a pleasant surprise to hear Debbie Reynolds singing "Chin Up" from the 1973 animated Charlotte's Web classic on Tuesday's In the Character Blog featuring Charlotte A. Cavatica. But, I was remiss that producers did not select "Mother Earth and Father Time" instead. That song served as a lullaby to both my daughters Poet and Piper as tiny babies. I read from Answers.com that "According to The Annotated Charlotte's Web by Peter F. Neumeyer, some fans of the book are not in favor of the song's placement in the film because it supplants E. B. White's narrative words, "...And she didn't move again." To me, it is a song forever most profound and true. I imagine if you play it, there will be a many appreciative but teary eyes.

Sent by Amy Hadin-Turosak | 8:17 PM | 8-7-2008

It's been almost 40 years, but I have great memories of my 3rd-grade teacher reading the book to the class over the course of a few months.

Between Charlotte's Web and the story I learned as a youngster in yeshiva day school of how a humble spider saved David from King Saul, I can never kill a spider! I may "liberate" them from the apartment, but I refuse to squash them.

Sent by Jay S. | 2:07 PM | 8-11-2008

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