Ms. Udell passed by George's desk. "To be honest, I'm not sure what I think of a person who doesn't cry at the end of Charlotte's Web."
"You didn't," George mumbled.
"I did the first three times ... and a good number of times since." Ms. Udell paused, and for a moment it looked as if she might tear up right then. "My point is, it takes a special person to cry over a book. It shows compassion as well as imagination." Ms. Udell patted George's shoulder. "Don't ever lose that, George, and I know you'll turn into a fine young man."
- Chapter II
The problem is, George considers herself a girl. And even well-meaning people, like her 4th-grade teacher, hurt her feelings without realizing it. Throughout the book, the narrator refers to George using female pronouns - the same way George refers to herself. This reinforces for the reader the sense of George being a girl. We see George, during private moments looking at women's magazines and being herself. This contrasts with George's public life with her mom and older brother and with everyone at school. George really wants to play Charlotte in the school play and the teacher refuses to even consider her because she is a boy. George finds acceptance in her best friend who helps her find ways to be true to herself.
This is a touching story about a child trying to get people to accept her for who she is. Her struggle is presented in an age-appropriate way that while difficult at times, remains hopeful.
The reason I became interested in this book is because a third-grade teacher at school was complaining about it. She didn't like that one of the students in her class was reading it. She came into the library to ask if we had the book and to point out that she thought it was inappropriate for third-graders. I looked into it and School Library Journal recommends it to grades 4-6, Kirkus Reviews says ages 9-12 and Publishers Weekly says ages 8-12. The student got the book from home so it wasn't really an issue.
I am glad I read the book. I believe it is well thought out and appropriate for kids. As I learned in my grad school class, books like this can be mirrors or windows, depending on the reader. It helps children who might be transgender to understand themselves and have a character they can relate to (mirror). It also helps children empathize with what others might be going through (window).
Generally, 4th grade and up, but as always parents know their own kids best.