Through Young Eyes and Old Stories, We Can Gain New Perspective
MY DAUGHTER, AIMEE, WILL PROUDLY TELL YOU THAT SHE’S four and three-quarters now, and not just four and a half. Upon this momentous birthday occasion my wife decided it was time to move beyond the picture books with our nightly story-telling and, as has probably been true in millions of homes, Charlotte’s Web was her first choice as a “big girl” book.
They had been reading a chapter a night with regularity for five bedtimes when, on the sixth night, my wife shrieked my name so loudly it could be heard across the house. When I sprang from my Red Sox game to see what was the matter, my wife read the passage aloud from Page 43 of E.B. White’s timeless classic.
“In early summer there are plenty of things for a child to eat and drink and suck and chew. Dandelion stems are full of milk, clover heads are loaded with nectar . . . everywhere you look is life; even the little ball of spit on the weed stalk, if you it apart, has a green worm inside it.”
“I thought you’d appreciate that,” she said. “I guess dandelions weren’t seen as bad guys back then.”
The next day I saw this item from a newspaper in England:
http://www.westsussextoday.co.uk/news/teenager_s_photograph_wins_him_a_top_award_1_3090215. Taken by a 15-year-old photographer, the photograph of a dandelion, above, won a prestigious honor.
“I like to photograph less obvious aspects of nature, such as detailed studies of lacewings, dewdrops, frost patterns,” said the boy.
Imagine if that boy lived at most homes in my neighborhood. He wouldn’t have had any dandelions to photograph.
Imagine living back in 1952 when White penned his masterpiece about a spider and a pig. Weed ‘n feed was advertised in Horticulture magazine and Ladies Home Journal, but obviously hadn’t made its way to the remote farm in Maine where the author’s niece cavorted with farm critters.
I can imagine that farm life, because my childhood in Maine in the 1960s was no different than White’s surroundings of the 1950s.
On the eve of the 60th anniversary of Charlotte’s Web, I can think of no greater way to honor the book than to help children understand that dandelion stems are still full of milk, clover heads are still loaded with nectar . . . everywhere you look is still full of life.