Review x 2: Charlotte's Web and Dory Dory Black Sheep

Oct 19, 2016

For probably the last year or so, Bradley has listened to every single one of our readalouds. (Before then, he was a bit hit and miss--sometimes he'd listen, sometimes he preferred Mike to read picture books to him while I read to the older boys.)

It's been a joy to have him along for the ride, especially since he's one of my best snugglers. But I have wondered about how to make sure he doesn't miss out on books that a) I've already read to the older two or b) seem too young or babyish to Aaron or Max.*

And then, soon after the beginning of school, I stumbled upon the perfect solution. I could read those books to Bradley in the afternoons while his older brothers were at school.

These are the two books we've read so far, and I have to tell you, it's been nothing but a treat (but then, most things are with Bradley).

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
We started with a classic--one that I would never be able to forgive myself for if I somehow omitted it in any of my children's childhoods. (Although, now that I've given it more thought, I'm pretty sure there's no way Max, who was two-and-a-half when I read it the first time, could possibly remember it, although he claims that he does. This is a grave oversight.)

I already wrote a thorough review of it when I read it to Aaron, but I wanted to add just a few things that made me dog-ear the pages this time:

First, this book feels so timeless . . . except when it doesn't. For instance, one morning Fern and Avery are rushing to catch the school bus. Mrs. Arable takes tiny Wilber out of Fern's hand and gives her a doughnut to eat on the way. Avery grabs his gun and another doughnut and runs out the door. Did you catch that? His gun! I'm still getting over the shock that Avery takes his gun to school, and its as natural a thing to take as another doughnut. Times have certainly changed.

Second, I find it so interesting that the only person who thinks it might be the spider, rather than the pig, who's extraordinary is Mrs. Zuckerman. Everyone else just believes the message in the web: "Look, it says 'Some Pig,' so he really must be some pig!" They don't even think that a spider might be capable of weaving words into her web. Rather, they're convinced it must be some supernatural miracle that just uses the web that's already there as its canvas. But the readers appreciate the silliness of all the adults because we know who the real truly brilliant character is.

Third, I think I felt more irritation with Wilbur than I have on previous readings. While his innocence and naivety are endearing, he's sometimes so self-centered in his wishes. For example, when Charlotte tells him that she can't go to the fair with him, he freaks out a little. Finally, after all his whining and begging and pleading, Charlotte agrees to try. Wilber says, "Oh, good! I knew you wouldn't forsake me just when I need you most," and I kind of just wanted to slap him up the side of the head. Charlotte has literally worn out her life in his service, and he is so completely blind to it. He is not unlike a small child. (Luckily, he redeems himself when he is willing to make great sacrifices to keep Charlotte's egg sac safe.)

Finally, this story just gets me, right here, every time. I was an emotional wreck during the second to last chapter. My voice tightened, and I could barely choke out the words. The tears just streamed down my cheeks. My heart was breaking. Bradley kept looking at me, totally dry-eyed himself. I asked him if he felt sad, and he said yes, but I think it's one of those things that, even though it's a children's novel, grows in poignancy with age and maturity. I have had amazing friends who have sacrificed a lot for me. I also know what it's like to lose someone I love. So this story touches an emotional soft place for me that Bradley doesn't have yet.

I just love this book so much. It will always be one of my favorites.

Dory Dory Black Sheep by Abby Hanlon
After loving the first two Dory Fantasmagory books so much, I actually pre-ordered the third one in the series. I gave it to Bradley for his fifth birthday, and although it's at just the right reading level for him to read on his own, I didn't want to miss out on it, so I read it to him.

In this installment, Dory's real and imaginary worlds continue to collide in fantastic and amusing ways. One day she sees her best friend, Rosabelle reading a big thick chapter book. Dory exclaims, "I love pretending to read chapter books, too!," not realizing that Rosabelle can, in fact, read it. When she finds out, Dory is mortified and frustrated--she is still struggling through the very simplest easy readers. When she tries to force herself to read these "baby books," she finds herself suddenly in the book, and her fairy godmother, Mr. Nuggy, is there too, and so is the evil Mrs. Gobble Gracker. Fighting off villains is way more fun than reading, at least until something finally starts to click and a whole new world opens up to Dory.

In my opinion, this book isn't quite as good as the first two in the series, but it comes close. The other two made me laugh out loud at some point, and this one, for whatever reason, never did. It could have been that the endearing six-year-old-humor is mixed together with the obnoxious six-year-old humor, and since I already live with my own six-year-old, who seems to get more obnoxious by the day, it hit a little closer to home than before. For example, one afternoon Dory gets home from school and starts jumping on a chair while swinging around two hammers and yelling at the top of her voice. Her mom rushes in and yells, "Dory, what are you doing? DON'T! STOP!" Dory says, "Okay . . . you said, 'Don't Stop,'" and she keeps on doing it. My resident six-year-old did and said something almost like that just yesterday (can someone please tell me how to stop the stupid Christmas songs with first grade lyrics? I'm about to go crazy).

But the very fact that Dory's so obnoxious at times is also the reason why these books are so good. Somehow Abby Hanlon has entered the six-year-old psyche and nailed it perfectly. And the clash between Dory's two worlds is so extremely clever. Dory is visited by Mary or Mr. Nuggy or Mrs. Gobble Gracker at wildly inappropriate times, which makes for some funny and awkward situations.

But I think my favorite moment was this one, when Dory is all alone, with no distractions from real or imaginary friends: "The next morning, I wake up extra early. One by one, I take my favorite books off the bookshelf. All alone, in the quiet of my room, I lie on the floor with my books. As the morning light slowly shines brighter and brighter through my window, I turn the pages and look carefully at the pictures. I look at the words carefully, too, and some of the words . . . I read."

I guess six-year-olds can be unbearably sweet sometimes, too.

*My kids will actually listen to just about anything, so this is probably not a truly legitimate concern. In fact, I might have thought Aaron would think Dory was too young for him, but he thinks she's hilarious and read this whole book one night before bed.


  1. Haha, I was super annoyed with Wilbur when we read it last month too. I kept thinking, "Now, what does Charlotte see in him? Why does everyone love him so much?" He was so whiny!

    1. I mean, I guess I love my own children, and they're whiny, so I guess it's possible. :-) It definitely seemed to be more of a parent/mentor type of relationship rather than a mutual friendship.

  2. Aw creating beautiful memories with your lad. He'll always remember 'the year mum read to me alone when my brothers were at school' :-)


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