My Whole 3rd Grade Class Became Vegetarian After Reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’

Kalea Martin

Children are like little sponges, and there’s no arguing that education opens minds. In the third grade, the novel Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White did exactly that, inspiring me and the rest of my 8-year-old classmates to become vegetarians.

Although it wasn’t E.B. White’s intention, the personification of the characters in the book, namely Wilbur, a pig in danger of being slaughtered, and his friend Charlotte, a sympathetic spider who weaves words in her web to communicate with the farmer, opened a group of third grader’s hearts and minds to animal rights. Even though we didn’t quite have the language to discuss such a dense subject, the book and our patient teacher helped us to understand it.

“Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will.”
E.B. White, ‘Charlotte’s Web’

It all unfolded one day during morning recess, when I was talking to two of my friends about the dinner I had the night before. Tears began to fog up my glasses, and I broke down in tears, confessing how bad I felt about eating the pork chops my mom had cooked. It was confusing, because pork chops had always been one of my favorite foods. But how could I do that to Wilbur, especially after Charlotte worked so hard to save his life? The book we were reading had apparently remained at the forefront of my mind, even after the school day ended. As a result, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat any farm animals who might be friends with Charlotte or Wilbur, not even the disdainful lamb, the talkative goose, or the intelligent old sheep. And my friends understood me perfectly, because we were all reading the same pages together in class, chapter by chapter.

“It is quite possible that an animal has spoken to me and that I didn’t catch the remark because I wasn’t paying attention.”
— E.B. White, ‘Charlotte’s Web’

One of the girls with whom I was having this playground discussion happened to be my Indian American best friend who was vegetarian for religious reasons. She never ate chicken nuggets at lunch, and I always thought she was missing out. But it was on this exact day that I felt like I could skip the chicken nuggets like she did too. So along with her and my other best friend, we all decided that we would give up meat for good.

The following Friday, we had a pizza party in class because it was the 100th day of school, an occasion for which we would be watching the Charlotte’s Web movie in class, appropriately timed since we had just finished reading the book. Anticipating that there would be pepperoni pizza for our class pizza party, my Type A friends and I decided to take it upon ourselves to politely ask our teacher if she could make sure to order a vegetable pizza or a plain cheese pizza, because “We are vegetarians,” we proclaimed proudly.

Our classmates perked up to hear that we would be getting a special pizza just for us. When we explained to them why we had decided to become vegetarians, they were eager to hop on board. They loved Wilbur too, and eating cheese pizza instead of pepperoni pizza seemed easy enough. My best friends and I felt like trendsetters.

“With the right words, you can change the word.”
— E.B. White, ‘Charlotte’s Web’

For the remainder of the year, we kept up vegetarianism as a class (at lease while we were at school). It was due to a combination of my strong friendship, our supportive teacher, the openness of our class, and most importantly, the message in the book we had read. Never underestimate the power of reading, especially to children. A group of 8-year-olds deciding to become vegetarian is proof that children’s books do more than just teach them how to read. They are more than just bedtime stories that help little ones have sweet dreams. They inspire them to speak up for what they believe in, and it causes a ripple effect.

Reading a seemingly trivial story about animals on a farm led me to stop eating meat, to care about animal rights, and it inspired the rest of my classmates to do the same, because it opened a discussion about it in our classroom. It might be rare for a third grader to want to talk about factory farming, animal cruelty, and the impact of veganism on the environment, but it’s actually a huge part of what I remember about being 8 years old, and it was all because of Charlotte’s Web.

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