Teachers in Books -- by Jane Kelley

So many teachers have inspired me. Some I had when I was a girl; some taught my daughter; some invited me into their classrooms. But some of the most memorable teachers I know are characters in books.

Charlotte is a beautiful gray spider. When she first meets Wilbur, he is a dismayed that she sucks blood from insects. But she explains. “I live by my wits, lest I go hungry. I have to think things out, catch what I can, take what comes. And it just so happens that what comes is flies.”

As you know, in the story Charlotte saves Wilbur. But she accomplishes more than that clever trick of putting words on a web. She lifts him up from despair and loneliness. She doesn't just give him life; she gives him a reason to live.

When he asks why she did that for him, she says: “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
Illustration by Garth Williams, copyright reserved 
Charlotte’s Web inspired me in so many ways. I loved it as a child, of course. Now that I write my own novels, I try to emulate its blend of realism and magic. But I also try to do what E.B. White did so well—make one of my characters a teacher. 

In my first novel, Nature Girl, I had an old woman named Trail Blaze Betty guide Megan as she hiked part of the Appalachian Trail. Trail Blaze Betty gave Megan encouragement and helpful hints-- from a distance so that Megan could do the work herself.

In my current Work In Progress, I will make sure there is someone who can provide inspiration, information, and the opportunity for my hero to make her own way.

And if I do my job right, that teacher will do the same for me!


  1. Love this wonderful reminder of the power a teacher has in opening the minds and hearts of children.


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