English - The real web pioneer

23rd December 2011 at 00:00
Dining out with a famous arthropod induces some anxiety

No one notices my guest as we enter the restaurant, but there is something about her mere presence that casts a shadow over the evening and initiates a general sense of unease among the other diners.

Charlotte, being short-sighted, is unimpressed by the salubrious surroundings and her particular dietary requirements mean that the entire constellation of Michelin stars is superfluous. In truth, I only chose such a grand setting because TES offered to foot the bill.

"A reservation for two, sir?" says the waiter in a way that makes me think "sir" might be a euphemism for something attached to the bottom of his shoe. He makes a show of looking around as if to say, "And where might your guest be?"

Right on cue a large, grey spider scuttles up my evening jacket and positions herself demurely on my left shoulder. "This is Charlotte," I say, "the famous writer and pig expert." I anticipate a strained debate: restaurant hygiene versus equal opportunities. It doesn't happen. I think it's because Charlotte wins him over with a thin smile - don't ask me how - and a suggestion that she's thinking of putting restaurant reviews on her website.

The waiter finds us an intimate table away from any arachnophobes, then he takes our order and leaves. I begin the conversation with some non-contentious questions, such as how does a creature not known for its literary prowess learn to read and write? Was it all down to a programme of synthetic phonics or did she use the whole word approach? And what is it like to be the only writer to have work published on the web before the internet had been invented?

Clearly she is no good at small talk and we soon fall into silence. I know now is the time for my big question. It is the one that has haunted me since I first read Charlotte's Web so many years ago. What is the true nature of Charlotte A Cavatica? What made a merciless predator reinvent herself as the self-sacrificing champion of a potential Sunday roast? Was she really motivated by love and friendship for a pig or was there another reason?

"Mrs Zuckerman got it right, didn't she?" I say at last.

Charlotte fixes all six eyes on me.

I press on regardless. "She was the only one to see the truth. The pig wasn't remarkable; the spider was! Everybody else was taken in. They believed that Wilbur was SOME PIG! That he was TERRIFIC! But the words were always about you. By putting a positive spin on Wilbur you were in fact spinning a web of deceit. You were writing your name in literary history, not his. After all, they named the book Charlotte's Web not Wilbur the Pig!"

"The spinnerets are mightier than the meat cleaver," she replies coldly.

The tension is interrupted by the arrival of our starters. Charlotte sits motionless on the edge of the table and watches them being served: abdomen low, mandibles clenched, legs bunched for sudden movement. She is clearly not pleased.

"Is something wrong, madam?" asks the waiter.

"Yes," snaps Charlotte in a voice as brittle as glass. "There isn't a fly in my soup."

Steve Eddison is a KS2 teacher at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

What else?

Want to make phonics fun? Try Mr_Thorne's video games, whole class activities and flashcards.

Look at Charlotte's Web in more detail: try Karl Mersh's classroom activities.

For comprehensive post-16 resources on "children and language", see TES English.

In the forums

Teachers discuss the effect teaching phonics has on spelling.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources015.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today