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'Charlotte's Web' celebrates its 60th anniversary

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R: Courtesy of the E.B. White Foundation

(Read caption) 'Charlotte's Web' was cited by Publisher's Weekly as the bestselling children's paperback of all time as of 2000.

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Classic children’s novel “Charlotte’s Web” by E. B. White is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its publication today.

The novel, which first appeared in 1952 illustrated by Garth Williams, tells the story of a pig named Wilbur living on a farm, his youthful owner, Fern, and his friend Charlotte the spider, who comes up with an innovative way to save Wilbur from becoming a meal. The book won a Newbery Honor and, with White’s other children’s novel “Stuart Little,” won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal.

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White moved to a farm in Brooklin, Maine, now known as the E.B. White House, in 1933 with his wife, and his experiences with the animals there is said to have been the inspiration for the story.

Biographer Michael Sims recalled how the novel’s bittersweet ending, in which Charlotte the spider dies, strongly affected White when he was recording an audio book version of the story.

“He, of course, as anyone does doing an audio book, had to do several takes for various things, just to get it right,” Sims told NPR. “But every time, he broke down when he got to Charlotte's death. And he would do it, and it would mess up… He took 17 takes to get through Charlotte's death without his voice cracking or beginning to cry.”

“Web” began receiving positive reviews as soon as it was released, with writer Eudora Welty writing for The New York Times, “As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.”

It was cited as the highest-selling children’s paperback in history as of 2000 by Publisher’s Weekly. It has been adapted twice for film, once as an animated feature in 1973 with “Singing in the Rain" actress Debbie Reynolds voicing Charlotte and as a well-reviewed live-action version that was released in 2006, starring actress Dakota Fanning as Fern with Julia Roberts voicing Charlotte.

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