Award-winning actress Meryl Streep is the first person to narrate Charlotte's Web since author E.B. White's own performance, recorded nearly 50 years ago

By Sam Gillette
May 21, 2019 10:05 AM
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Meryl Streep
ANGELA WEISS/AFP/Getty

Two greats are merging!

Meryl Streep will bring her distinctive voice to the world of audiobooks with her narration of E.B. White’s beloved tale Charlotte’s Web, which goes on sale this fall. First published in 1952, the classic story will also be narrated by an ensemble cast and features cover art by two-time Caldecott Honor-winning artist Melissa Sweet. (PEOPLE has the exclusive first look.)

“E.B. White wrote that Charlotte’s Web is a story of life, death, and friendship,” said Sweet, who is also a White biographer. “For the audiobook cover, I chose to illustrate the quintessential moment when Wilbur first meets Charlotte on a perfect spring day in Maine. I am deeply honored.”

Streep, an Academy Award-winning actress, is the first person to narrate Charlotte's Web since the author’s own performance, recorded nearly 50 years ago. White’s story of the friendship between Charlotte, a barn spider, and Wilbur, a pig who was the runt of the litter, has moved generations of readers and inspired two film adaptations.

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Charlotte's Web audiobook cover
Listening Library

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“As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done,” wrote Eudora Welty in her 1952 New York Times review of the book. “What it all proves — in the words of the minister in the story which he hands down to his congregation after Charlotte writes ‘Some Pig’ in her web — is ‘that human beings must always be on the watch for the coming of wonders.’ “

White, also the author of Stuart Little, loved farm animals since he was a child. In 1933, he and his wife, Katharine Angell, bought a farm in Maine — the setting that would later inspire White to write Charlotte’s Web, according to NPR. (White died in 1985 at the age of 86.)

“One of the pigs [White] was raising died,” Michael Sims — author of The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic told NPR in 2012. “While he was carrying the pails of slops every day to the replacement pig in the barn, he noticed there was a spider attending its web every day, expanding the web, rebuilding what had happened the night before, and then one day he saw that it had spun an egg case.”

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White took the spider’s egg case with him when he had to move to New York City. After the spiders hatched, he wrote the children’s tale, per NPR. The author was just as attached to the story of Charlotte’s Web when he narrated the book in 1970.

“He, of course, as anyone does doing an audiobook, had to do several takes for various things, just to get it right,” Sims told NPR. “But every time, he broke down when he got to Charlotte’s death. And he would do it, and it would mess up. … He took 17 takes to get through Charlotte’s death without his voice cracking or beginning to cry.”

The new Charlotte’s Web audiobook will be published by Listening Library on Oct. 29.

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