My Origin Story Part 2: Reading Charlotte’s Web

Previously on my origin story, I got frustrated with a picture book in first grade and wrote my own.

The next phase of my writerly development concerned reading Charlotte’s Web–eight times. I read a lot in the 2nd and 3rd grade, but this book forced me to new levels of obsession. Sure, I wanted to live there in Fern’s world, the little farm girl desperate to save her pet pig Wilbur from slaughter. I wanted to go back to the beginning over and over while…


Charlotte was still alive.

More than that, I think I was studying E.B. White’s writing.I had a need to understand how he did it. How did he make Templeton the Rat such a cool character when he started out reprehensible? How did he reverse the black moment when all seemed lost and Wilbur doomed? How was it that a story that could be considered fairly grim–don’t get too attached to those farm animals you feed, kid; soon they’ll be dinner–turned out so engaging and exciting and just, well, fun?

White even killed off the title character and I still wanted to be there, though I admit to skipping the ending for a few of those eight reads. (Sorry, E.B., but I still haven’t forgiven you and don’t even try to be selling me this mess, “But it’s okay–Charlotte’s babies live on!” Nope. Not okay. It will never be okay.)

There was only one other early book I tore apart like I did Charlotte; The Witches’ Bridge by Barbee Oliver Carlton. Read it 11 times till the cover dissolved and the binding came loose. It was about these British orphaned twins who came to New England and ran around in the salt marshes until they solved a mystery. It’s out of print now–or is it? (Apparently, you can buy it on Amazon for one cent, or something.) I’d love to read it again, see why it caught my eye like that. Or do I? Maybe it will be cringingly bad and I’ll start to question my whole world view.

But Charlotte is still around and I’ve read it since grade school, and yes, it is that good. Basic, solid storytelling at its best. And I love the set-up of the gang of mismatched characters who band together to fight the bad thing. This would be a common theme in many of my future stories.

 

What were the “readovers” that played a huge part in your childhood? That shaped your ideas about writing, if you’re a writer?

Next up on My Origin Story: Part 3–Fits and Starts
Next up on Devlin’s Blog: Best TV Show Seasons

 

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4 Responses to My Origin Story Part 2: Reading Charlotte’s Web

  1. It’s strange that I can’t really remember what I read as a child. My parents tell me I used to not only memorize the books I read and were read to me, but that I also copied them word for word; and yet they seem to have faded into the dark recesses of my mind.

    I do, however, remember reading Charlotte’s Web and feeling as virtually every child did when Charlotte died–devastated. But without going back and reading it, the story seems somewhat nebulous to me. I also recollect reading Where the Wild Things Are, but my memories of it are vague at best. I suppose I’d have to ask my parents what my “readovers” were that may have shaped my ideas as a writer. It’s embarrassing, I know, that I’ve forgotten such things.

    • Chris Devlin says:

      Yeah, killing Charlotte certainly did make that book memorable. I’m sure it would have been anyway, but there’s something to be said for killing your main characters if you want to make an impact.
      I remember loving Where the Wild Things Are and Harold & the Purple Crayon but I don’t remember them that well; except from reading them as an adult working at Tattered Cover. But the imaginative aspects stayed with me, that idea of slipping away to other worlds that you could access from your room.
      A lot of writers started out copying books when they were children. Stephen King writes about doing that.

  2. Kris Will says:

    The one readover book that I remember from childhood was Land Slide! by Veronique day (c) 1961. Five children are trapped in a house that has been covered by a landslide. Through a series of misadventures no one knows they are there. They have to be brave and resourcefull to survive and send for help. It was a wonderful inspiring adventure . I believe it was translated from the French. It had a very european feel to it. I liked it very very much. (note this poster is not a writer but a reader, hence the very very much).

    • Chris Devlin says:

      Hey, thanks for the comment! I’ve never heard of that book, but it sounds great. Do you still have a copy? I still have a few picture books from when I was a kid, my favorite being “Alexander and the Magical Mouse.” I liked stories of kids getting together and facing adversity. In fact, I still do, which is probably why I watch the CW and ABC family.