It was looking dicey, even from the first line, but I found the perfect plan. To avoid crying through the last few pages of Charlotte’s Web, I realized I had to distract brain while my read-aloud muscles did their job on autopilot. So as I pronounced the words of Charlotte’s death and motherhood, I let my eyes scan the line from initial consonant to initial consonant, noting the relative frequency of each letter. I made myself count and calculate rather than falling into the words.
“My, how often Cs and Bs appear. Wow, there are a lot of Ts this line.” Never mind lessons about mortality, enduring love, generational connections, and children who grow up and fly away. There are surprisingly few initial vowels at the end of the book.
Oh, my trick worked beautifully. I read Peanut the whole last two chapters without losing it. Charlotte died, and I was calm and reassuring as I smoothly glossed over each word, my eyes silently grabbing for the consonants further down the line. Her babies were born and I rejoiced, at least in my voice, but maintained control by counting Ss. Her three daughters set up their webs above Wilbur—three distinct personalities, all of whom evidenced something of their mother. And White wrapped the whole story in a warm blanket of friendship and enduring love, yet I sweetly and breezily narrated it with my best reading voice. And I didn’t cry once.
Until I said “The End.” Because there wasn’t anywhere to go after those words. No more consonants. Damned End even ends in an E. I wasn’t prepared for a vowel. Or for my trick to run smack onto a blank page.
And I bawled. Talking through pathetic little sobs, I told a surprised Peanut that “it’s just my favorite story and I love how gentle the friends are with each other, how sweet and true and friendly.”
That book gets me every time. Damnit.