Posted on October 30th, 2013
hen they’re big enough, words will get away from me.
I couldn’t have told you that when I was younger. If I read something and understood the parts that comprised the whole of something (and when didn’t I?) then mastery of the material was mine! Comprehension alone was enough.
It wasn’t hubris but ignorance, rather, that allowed me to believe such a ridiculous thing. Looking back, I’m not even sure there was quite enough of me to have space for things like wondering—the activity you engage in when you can’t quite get your head around the bigness of a sentiment or the beauty in the way it’s been expressed.
Reading with The Three has given me the opportunity to revisit some of those books I thought I already had under my belt, standards or classics that, having read them once, I couldn’t imagine having a need to return to.
You know, because I’d read them already.
Charlotte’s Web was one of those. The pig, the spider, the farm—yeah, yeah, I got it. But a few years ago, when Peaches and I returned together to the words that connected Wilbur to Charlotte, Charlotte to her fate and Wilbur, finally, to the wider world waiting for him after she was gone, I could barely read sections of it without having to stop for fear of the kind of crying I might begin to do.
How could I have missed so much, I wondered every time I had stop to breathe before I could begin reading again. How dare I tell people I’d read this stupid book?
This fall, Peaches’ third grade class has been wending their way through Fern Arable’s life with Wilbur again. Their teacher gave them a variety of ways to demonstrate their understanding for the story. Peaches’ favorite was the ‘build’, the exercise that invited her to recreate the physical confines that held Wilbur’s extended family of farm animals.
Her farm made the trip into school yesterday but not before I documented its paper walls and suspended spider friend. I liked how her cut-out sheep and cows almost made E.B. White’s words small enough for me to manage them. Perhaps this is precisely what her teacher hoped it would do for the children. I’m not sure. But Peaches’ pastoral paper world still made me want to cry and this is how I can be sure it is the most faithful of adaptations.∗