Charlotte’s Web seems poorly written.
Now, before you get too up in arms about this concept, hear me out. I’m being slightly controversial in a cynical attempt to snare your attention. 😉
I have a couple of issues with it; one is that things seem to happen in a fairly arbitrary manner. The main dramatic question seems to be “will Wilbur be eaten for Christmas dinner?”, but this is essentially based on hearsay from other barnyard animals. At one point one of the humans comments to the effect of there being good eating on that pig, but there’s never a clear indication from the farmer that he intends to do this – it’s just assumed, which somewhat robs it of any dramatic tension.
My other concern is that the characters are interesting, but inconsistent. At some points, Fern (the little girl) is devoted to Wilbur, and interested in the other animals; at other points it seems like she couldn’t care less about her favourite pig. We are told (not shown) the prevailing attitude of the animals towards Templeton (the rat) – that he is disliked, feared, considered untrustworthy, etc., but this does not match how he is treated. I can believe that he’s disliked, but he’s generally accepted and tolerated, and often useful to the other characters.
You may well rebut that it’s a children’s book, and I shouldn’t be so hard on it. Why is that a valid argument? Are children any less able to recognise a good story? Sure, you can get a lot further by the simple expedient of “what would be the neatest thing to happen here?”, but that only works up to a point. A bedtime story has to be interesting in small chunks (but not too exciting – you want them to sleep afterwards!), but if the overall plot doesn’t enmesh the imagination there’s no motivation to read more tomorrow night. Why continue this story rather than any other one?
Still, I’m not a children’s author, or a parent, so I may just be talking out of a hole in my head. Er, metaphorically that is.