Monday, April 20, 2009

'I Diddent See The WHOLE THING!'

That was Maia's anguished cry at the end of the penultimate chapter of "Charlotte's Web" last night. I was crying by the end of it myself, because that last line, "No one was with her when she died," is one of the saddest in all literature. After I got that line out in a whisper, Maia put her head on my chest and wailed. Matt ran into the bedroom, John at his heels, and we all sat on the bed and tearfully mourned Charlotte.

"I thought you said you had seen the movie," I said.

She sat up and shook her head. "I diddent see the WHOLE THING," she cried, full of grief and reproach. "I diddent see the END."

Once we had pulled ourselves together, we read the last chapter, which was also sad in its own way, but happy-sad, and she had settled enough to read to herself before she fell asleep. "That book's a one-timer," John said to her in a wise voice. "It's so good, you can only read it one time."

Shattering a small person's literary world is exhausting, so I went to bed. About a half-hour later, I awoke to find Maia climbing up on the bed. "I'm lonely," she said. "I want to be with you."

I want my children to be familiar with grief and loss and healthy ways to deal with those emotions, but I am not heartless, so I let her cuddle up with me and we talked about the book.

"Why would somebody write a book like that?" she asked, and we talked about writing as catharsis and sharing and vicarious experience. She said she understood, and we curled up and went to sleep.


  1. Gameboy read this when he was pretty young, and I warned him that it was sad at the end. I think it was the next day he was already finished, and I was surprised that it didn't make him sad. I doubted for a second that he had really read it. But then he asked, "So when the spider dies? Is that the sad part?"
    Maybe it would make him cry now that he's older?

  2. The traumatizing book from my childhood was definitely "The Yearling." That book is unnecessarily sad. (See also: "Where the Red Fern Grows" and "The Red Pony.")

  3. I remember crying (off and on) days later after my mom read me Charlotte's Web. She didn't know how it ended, so she wasn't prepared.

    I love that book.

  4. My (absolutely brilliant) first-grade teacher read us all Charlotte's web aloud--the whole thing, to the whole class. Then she gave her old paperback copy to the child who wrote the best tiny essay about it, and I won. I wish all teachers were just like her.