Months ago, I brought home a copy of E. B. White's classic Charlotte's Web. I thought that in a year or two, as my four-year-old became five, or six, perhaps we'd begin reading it together. To my surprise I learned that she'd already seen the movie adaptation. I think she assumed I bought the book because I'd never heard the story. Whatever the reason, she wanted to read it right away, so we began reading a chapter before bedtime each night.
The book is unlike many of her other books, which are heavily populated with pictures for her to look at when I read to her, so in the beginning, she was easily distracted by anything that wasn't on the page: the rug, her pillow, the curtains. Soon, we weren't reading a chapter each night, but it was for the best reason: Squish was now reading on her own, and she didn't want us to read to her at bedtime. She wanted to read to us.
So for a month or two, Charlotte's Web sat untouched on the bookshelf. We'd made good progress before putting the book aside—there were only three or four small chapters left.
A couple of days ago, I suggested that we try to finish reading it. Squish insisted on reading something all by herself. So we compromised: she would read one of her books to me, then I'd read a chapter of Charlotte to her. We did this twice more, and suddenly, the book was almost over.
This evening, I came home briefly to see my family before working on my current novel-in-progress. Squish told me about her day:
Me: What did you do today?
Squish: <shrugs> I dunno.
Me: Surely you can remember one thing you did today.
I made a sandwich for her, and she asked if I was going to read Charlotte to her at bedtime. It's already difficult enough to give my writing attention when there's an adorable, curious kiddo who wants to spend time with me. And the idea of missing an opportunity to read to her is never a happy thought. So we compromised again: while she ate her sandwich, I would read another chapter to her.
And it was that chapter.
You know the one.
Chapter 21: Last Day.
So there's Squish, happily munching her sandwich, unaware of what's coming—and though she's seen the movie, she's never mentioned Charlotte's death to me, so either the movie doesn't address it (which doesn't seem likely) or Squish didn't find that to be a valuable takeaway, so she didn't...well, take it away—and there's me, and Felicia, who is sitting nearby, untangling a friend's very tangled yarn, each of us very aware of what is coming.
I read the part about Templeton rescuing the egg sac for Wilbur, and the part about Wilbur tucking the eggs away safely in his mouth, and the wink he gives to Charlotte, and then there it is: that somber paragraph in which Charlotte dies.
I look at Squish as I read the sad words, and with a mouthful of peanut butter sandwich, her face falls, and she looks just a bit stricken. The chapter comes to an end, and Squish is still sitting there. The takeaway has been taken away this time. I suggest we could maybe read the next chapter, which I know will be full of happier moments, and Squish nods, but then we decide not to, because the next chapter's a bit longer, and we want to save it for the next bedtime.
She gets over it pretty quickly, of course, and gives me a tackle-hug as I go off to write. And with that, I think I've seen her run the gamut of emotions with the stories that Felicia or I have read to her, or that she's read to herself. She's been righteously angry at the villains, defiantly mad at bullies, downright hysterical at anything that involves butts, charmed by hugs and held hands. And now she's felt the first twinge of loss. It won't be the last one, of course. It's been one of my favorite things these past four years, watching her discover all of the emotions that a good story can bring out in her.
I think I won't let her read my books any time soon, though.