The other day my daughter experienced a bittersweet milestone on the path to literacy: crying over a book. We were reading the fifth Harry Potter book (Order of the Phoenix), and I had wondered how the death of a major adult character would affect her. I ended up warning her a few pages out that a sad event was coming. She actually guessed that it was a death, and almost immediately guessed who it would be. This did not protect her from sobbing in my arms when the death did occur.
"Why does she (Rowling) have to make such sad things happen in her books?" she wanted to know. I tried to explain about high stakes and the satisfaction of triumphing over true evil. We also discussed the tendency in children's books and movies to remove the parent figures, at least temporarily, so that the kids can take action. This she's noticed for years, so it helped her to understand the reasons for this particular death. But she was still sad. We had to put the book aside for later.
As for me, I feel her pain, and I feel sadness that I brought that to her by reading her the book. But I feel proud, too, that she can care so much about characters from the printed page. Crying over a book is unquestionably a milestone on the path to being a book lover. Do you remember the first book that you cried over? I do not, though I remember being quite disturbed about Mary's blindness in the Little House books, and over the tribulations of Sara Crewe in A Little Princess. I also recall sobbing over Matthew's death when listening to Anne of Green Gables as an adult, but that can't possibly have been the first.
I haven't read Charlotte's Web to my daughter (she's seen the movie, and isn't that interested in the book), but I've personally choked up while reading picture books to her. (The end of Corduroy, the end of Knuffle Bunny Free). And I believe that we both cried over the end of the movie Toy Story 3. But this was the first time that she has cried in my arms over something that happened in a book. I doubt it will be the last.
Stories that touch your heart are the most powerful. Even, or perhaps especially, when they hurt.