Death and Children’S Literature: Charlotte’s Web and the Dying Child

  • Rosalind Ekman Ladd
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 33)


An observation by an anthropologist studying the interactions of children in a hospital leukemia ward suggested the topic of this paper: the treatment of death in children’s literature, with specific reference to children with life-threatening illness. In The Private Worlds of Dying Children, Myra Bluebond-Langner notes:

The most popular book among these children [in a hospital ward with terminal leukemia] was Charlotte’s Web. When Mary and Jeffrey reached stage 5 [the final stage of awareness of illness], it was the only book they would read. Several children at stage 5 asked for chapters of it to be read to them when they were dying. But as one parent stated, “They never chose the happy chapters.”. They always chose the chapter in which Charlotte dies. After any child died, the book had a resurgence of popularity among the others ([1], p. 186). Recent psychological studies have revised our ideas of how children come to understand the concept of death, and their responses to it. We now know that young children have ideas and worries about death, even before they are old enough to verbalize them, and that fatally ill children have awareness even if they have not been told their diagnosis and never talk about it.1 Indeed, Bulebond-Langner cites the choice of Charlotte’s Web as one indication of their non-verbal awareness.


Natural Death Scarlet Fever Good Death Pluralistic View Unfinished Business 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosalind Ekman Ladd
    • 1
  1. 1.Wheaton CollegeNorton

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