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Charlottes Web, by E.B.

White (1952) Study Questions How is this first

chapter effective? Read the following questions and try to answer them
according to what you have read in Chapter 1. Use examples from the
text to support your answers.

1. Wheres papa going with that ax?: how effective do you think
this first sentence is, when it comes to hook up the reader?

The first chapter is always very important for the reader to know if he/she
wants to keep on reading the book. Therefore, it is essential that the writer
uses some special sentences or writes in a way that hooks up the reader
as soon as possible.

In this reading matter, I think that this sentence is very decisive to catch
the attention and interest of the reader because one immediately wants
to know what the father is going to do with the ax and what kind of story
is going to be developed from that sentence. When we start reading the
first lines, we immediately know the situation: Where's Papa going with
that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for
breakfast. "Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were
born last night." "I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was
only eight. "Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small
and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has
decided to do away with it.". Only with some sentences, we know that
there is a family that lives in a farm where they have some pigs and there
is one that was born very small so the father is going to kill it. Thus, we keep
on reading because we are curious about what is going to happen when
Fern runs after her father to avoid the slaughter of Wilbur.

2. What is the reason this story starts?

This story starts from an argument between a father and her daughter
about slaughter a pig because it was born too small to survive. As one
keeps on reading the chapter, the story becomes more and more
interesting due to the fact that one wants to know how this situation is
going to end. Exactly the moment when Fern sees her father with the ax is
deciding for the story to start. She could have been in another place
instead of in the kitchen preparing the breakfast and she would not have
noticed about his father going to the hoghouse with an ax, but she is lucky
to presence that moment and have the chance to run after her father
and convince him to let Wilbur live.

3. In the beginning, Fern has a heated argument with her father. What
is the argument about? Do you think this is appropriate in the first
chapter in a book for children?

The fact that the book starts with this argument is good to know how Ferns
character is and the view she has about the life. Her father wants to do
away the little pig because he thinks it has no possibilities to survive and
he does not mind since it is only a pig. However, Fern tries her best to keep
it alive and she explains to convince her father to let the pig live. For
example, she says "But it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being
born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed
me?". That shows that, even though Fern is a child, she is giving her father
a moral lesson about killing innocent living being just because it is an
animal and not a human. Concerning that, she says "I see no difference,"
replied Fern, still hanging on to the ax. "This is the most terrible case of
injustice I ever heard of." That shows Ferns way of thinking as an innocent
kid that cares about little animals and differentiates her from her fathers
adult mentality, only thinking about the work and the farm.

I consider that the argument between Fern and her father is not
inappropriate for a childrens book since Fern is a child and the children
readers can feel identify with the story and with her. All children arguments
with their parents and they can think that they would have done the same
if they had found themselves in the same situation. Moreover, the chapter
has a happy ending as Fern finally gets to save the pig and starts taking
care of it with a lot of excitement.

4. E.B. White wrote other animal fantasies such as Stuart Little, a story
where a woman gives birth to a mouse. So, we can safely say White
liked to play with uneasiness. Can you find instances of this in the
first chapter of Charlottes Web?

In this first chapter of Charlottes web, I can find some kind of uneasiness
in the argument between Mr. Arable and Fern. When we start reading, we
know that Mr. Arable is ready to kill a pig because he is going to the hog
house with an ax in his hands. We can feel anxiety when Fern starts to
speak with him to convince him about letting him live, using the resource
she considers the best: explaining her arguments by means of the
dialogue. As Fern is a child and Mr. Arable is the father and, consequently,
the person who has the authority in that situation, we do not know what is
going to happen and so, we feel a little bit of fear concerning the pig.
Finally, Mr. Arable gives in to the words of her daughter and decides to let
her take care of Wilbur. We can imagine that, in other situation where the
father had not been as understanding as Mr. Arable, the pig would not
had any chance to survive as the father is the adult and he decides what
is going to happen.

5. Describe the Arable family using five adjectives. Explain.

The five adjectives I consider appropriate to describe this family are:

Rural: this family lives on the countryside taking care of a farm with

Nuclear family: they are living together Mr. and Mrs. Arable, Fern
and her brother.

Understanding: at the beginning, Fern wants to save the pig and she
tries her best to convince her father. He listens to her and finally
accepts not to kill it: "All right," he said. "You go back to the house
and I will bring the runt when I come in. I'll let you start it 100 on a
bottle, like a baby. Then you'll see what trouble a pig can be." Mrs.
Arable also allows Fern to have the pig and feed it.

Religious: when Mr. Arable does not kill the pig and takes it into the
kitchen, he says concerning the pig "He's yours," said Mr. Arable.
"Saved from an untimely death. And may the good Lord forgive me
for this foolishness."

Responsible: they are all awake in the early morning preparing

breakfast and getting ready for start the day. For example, Mrs.
Arable gives orders to her son to educate him: "Wash your hands
and face, Avery!" and Mr. Arable gives him a lesson of waking up
early: "No, I only distribute pigs to early risers," said Mr. Arable. "Fern
was up at daylight, trying to rid the world of injustice. As a result, she
now has a pig. A small one, to be sure, but nevertheless a pig. It just
shows what can happen if a person gets out of bed promptly. Let's

6. Why do you think Charlotte hasnt appeared in the first chapter?

I think this first chapters aim in the book is to introduce the Arable family
and the situation that makes the story start. From this chapter we can know
some things about the family, for example, that they live all together in a
farm and they are father, mother, son and daughter. We can also start to
know Ferns character due to the fact that she shows her morality and
reasonableness using the dialogue to convince her father.

At the end of the chapter we have the situation solved (Fern will take care
of a pig that she decides to call Wilbur) and we are ready to keep on
reading what is going to happen even though we have no idea about
any character called Charlotte. Therefore, the writer hooks up the reader
by presenting the scene and leave it unfinished. As a result of this, I can
imagine that Charlotte hasnt appeared because she is a character
whose role and appearance is important after all the main situation is

7. Would you continue reading this book? a. Do you think a child

today would? If not, how could you, as a teacher, make it more

I would totally keep on reading this book. I think the beginning of a book
is decisive to know if you want to finish it or not and this is very captivating.
Firstly, the writer introduces you the story presenting a little girl that is only
a child but her morality is really strong and she is kind and intelligent.
Secondly, she gets what she wants (to save the pig) by means of dialogue
and good arguments. Finally, she starts taking care of the pig and she
even name it, what means that a story is going to develop from these two

In my opinion a child would keep on reading it due to the fact I explained

before. The main character, Fern, is a little child and that makes the
children feel identify with her. Moreover, she gets to save a pig from an
unfair slaughter and I think that most of the children would have done the
same. Then, they feel also identify in this fact. Therefore, I think children
would be very interested in knowing what kind of story or adventures are
going to happen after Fern saves Wilbur.

In any case, to catch the attention of the pupils about reading this book,
as teachers we can present it to them and introduce them the story in an
interesting way. We can work all together in the classroom with the first
chapter of the book, reading it and commenting it and then going
through some activities from it as, for instance, analysing the characters,
drawing the scenes of the first chapter and show them to the others, try to
imagine all together how the story keeps on, etc. This kind of activities can
help us to awaken the interest in our students.

Paula Company Feger

Llengua i Literatura Infantil Anglesa

Curs 2014/2015

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