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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #105
November 04, 2009

Caught in a Web

Charlotte's Web + Getting to Know Spiders

Every now and then, it's good to dust off a classic and remind ourselves that certain stories never get old. Charlotte's Web is just that kind of tale. The most recent adaptation of E.B. White's near-perfect novel stars Dakota Fanning as Fern, and features Julia Roberts as the voice of Charlotte. The conflict is timeless: Wilbur, a pig new to the farm, is warned that he is soon to be turned into bacon. Charlotte, a brave and literary spider, turns out to be brilliant at public relations. She designs a campaign to save Wilbur: by weaving words into her web to catch the attention of the farm's owner, she convinces him that Wilbur is an extraordinary pig worth saving. Unfortunately for Charlotte -- and this is the sad part for kids -- she can not save herself. After making 514 spider eggs, she dies, leaving Wilbur to raise her three smallest who stay on the farm. This is a film full of heart, full of great values like friendship, love and courage, and is one of those rare films that does justice to the book from which it came.

Charlotte, we discovered, is modeled on a real spider and what child isn't interested in getting to know their eight-legged friends a little better? Our local Natural History Museum has a special structure - a Spider Pavilion - designed for spider-kid encounters. On a recent visit we found ourselves caged in with arachnids! Whether you are engrossed, or grossed out, at the thought of mingling with spiders, we found that kids are incredible comfortable seeking out their webby friends. We asked the kids to find Charlotte, and with a little help from a friendly docent, they found her happily spinning zig zags into a silken web. When the webs were misted with water, arachnid artistry was made real for our kids: golden orbs and intricate weavings, spiders with pink legs or yellow tummies popped into sight. When we jiggled the far end of a complex web, the reigning female raced toward the vibration to see who'd come calling, and if they might stay for dinner! It wasn't long until we were fascinated and developed a new appreciation for those eight-legged creatures who make their home beneath our eaves.

 
Film Title: Charlotte's Web
Directed By: Gary Winick
2006, Rated G, 113 minutes


Want some more details about Charlotte's Web? Here are some tidbits:

  • Why It's Worth It: We recommend this film for pre-school and elementary aged kids. Although this is a beloved tale about love and friendship, death is a key theme and may be difficult for some children. Wilbur's fate, until Charlotte intervenes, is to die and Charlotte dies, as spiders do, after birthing her babies. Our kids LOVED the book version -- what child doesn't?  One of our 10-year old boys still claims it is still the best book he ever read - and he read it in first grade. Don't miss out on the chance to experience E.B. White's classic with your kids - aloud is best. Even if you read it anew with each successive child, you'll not tire of the timeless tale.
  • Voice Savvy: Listen for Robert Redford, Steve Buscemi. Oprah Winfrey, John Cleese, Kathy Bates, Jennifer Garner, Thomas Haden Church and others.
  • Further Viewing: Check out the animated version of Charlotte's Web, as well. In this 1973 version, Charlotte is voiced by Debbie Reynolds. The music was written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, known for their Disney scores, including Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book.

Want to talk to your kids about Charlotte's Web?  Here are some conversation starters:

  • Schoolyard Savvy: We all know a Templeton - a ratty character whose negativity is toxic. Ask the kids if the rat reminds them of anyone from school. Are there are other parallels they can make between life on the barnyard and their life at school?
  • Fictional Savvy: E.B. White once said: "In real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web. . . but real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too  -- truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act." Ask the kids if they think there can be truth in something that is absolutely not real.


 

Meet Some Real Spiders

Visit spiders at the Zoo or your local Natural History Museum

Age Recommendations: five and up

Time Allotment:  a few hours



Here are our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this Adventure.

  • What Worked for Us: Anyone over three will love seeing live spiders. We found an exhibit with spiders crawling around cage-free, which helped dispel the scary myth of the arachnid. Spiders are notoriously shy, so other than watching out for low-flying webs, fear not!
  • COOL FACT: E.B. White's Charlotte is actually a combination of two species: she LOOKS like a Eastern Barn Spider, but ACTS like an Argiope, a spider who weaves zig zags and geometric patterns into its webs. There were Argiope webs all over, and it was admittedly cool to see Charlotte's handiwork.
  • Spider Savvy: Teach your kids to keep their hands away from the webs because each takes a long time to weave. Spiders need their webs to see and hear; if their webs are destroyed, they panic and have nowhere to go!

Here are some tips on where to find spiders around the country.


 
Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.



Want to watch some more great animal films for young viewers? Click here to see all our film picks from the Kids Off the Couch store at Amazon.com.

Want some spider-y books?  Click here to see all our book picks at the Kids Off the Couch store at Amazon.com.