Still in celebration of 100 years since the birth of Roald Dahl, here is the 6th review in my Roald Dahl Read-A-Thon.
“Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” by Roald Dahl is the sequel to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and picks up immediately where the previous book left off. Willy Wonka, Charlie and Grandpa Joe have just collected Charlie’s parents and other three grandparents and are zooming into the sky in the Great Glass Elevator. Wonka’s plan is to get enough altitude so they can speed back down to earth with enough velocity to break through the roof of the chocolate factory. However, distracted by Charlie’s grandparents, Wonka misses his chance to hit the button at the right time. The occupants of the elevator find themselves adrift in space, just in time to see a shuttle that is about to connect with the world’s first space hotel.
Although this is the sequel to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” it lacks a lot of the, dare I say it, sweetness of the first book. Where “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a wild journey into a wonderful place, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator” seems to have gotten stuck on the wild part. It has all the hallmarks of Dahl’s other children’s books, bubbling enthusiasm, small but clever child, idiotic adults and reams and reams of nonsense language. However, this book is missing some of his usual charm and humour. It definitely doesn’t seem to have undergone the same editorial treatment that the first book did, and there are pages of jokes at the expense of people from other countries.
I don’t remember caring much for this book as a kid, and I didn’t care for it now. Apparently Dahl was working on a third book in this series that was never finished, and I have to say thank goodness. Stick to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, this one is just disappointing.
This is the 7th and last Roald Dahl book I read for the Roald Dahl Read-a-Thon in celebration of 100 years since the author was born. “Fantastic Mr Fox” was a bit of a childhood favourite of mine, and I knew it was going to be a high note to end on.
“Fantastic Mr Fox” by Roald Dahl is about a fox and his family who live near three farmers: Boggis, Bunce and Bean. After many successful expeditions to steal their chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys to feed his family, Mr Fox is taken by surprise when he’s ambushed by the farmers outside his hole one night. Although he escapes with his life, the farmers are onto him and will stop at nothing to dig him out.
This book is an excellent example of a modern fable. With all the elements of a classic animal story (especially the sly fox trope) and some pieces of fairy tale (three challenges),”Fantastic Mr Fox” is a fun, memorable story about animals banding together against some rotten villains. It’s got Dahl’s sense of humour, enthusiasm and wordplay throughout and it isn’t dull for a moment. The only thing that was a bit different for me is that I realised that I had a different edition when I was growing up. The edition I just read was illustrated by Quentin Blake, who has pretty much become synonymous with Roald Dahl’s children’s books. However, the one I had growing up was illustrated by Tony Ross. I have to say, I think I prefer Tony Ross’ softer style. The animals look much more cuddly and likeable, and his villains are far more revolting. I remember Bean in particular being depicted picking muck out of his ear, and being so thin he could cross his legs around three times.
This is an absolutely wonderful children’s story, and one that I will absolutely have on my shelf if ever I have children of my own.
Continuing with the celebration of 100 years since Roald Dahl was born, and my Roald Dahl read-a-thon, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is book number 5.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl is about a young boy called Charlie Bucket who lives with his mother, father and four bedridden grandparents. The Bucket family is very poor, and after Mr Bucket loses his job at the toothpaste factory, the Buckets start to struggle to afford food as winter closes in. Meanwhile, Willy Wonka, the reclusive owner of the town’s chocolate factory, has announced a contest. Five lucky finders of a golden ticket hidden inside a chocolate bar wrapper will win a tour of the chocolate factory which has been closed to the public and a lifetime supply of chocolate. Little Charlie only gets one bar a chocolate a year when it’s his birthday, so what are the chances he will win?
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a classic underdog story about quiet perseverance. Willy Wonka is a cultural icon who will forever be remembered as portrayed by the wonderful Gene Wilder who sadly died this year. This book is fantastically creative and Wonka’s (read: Dahl’s) inventions are wonderfully impossible. Dahl really goes all out on his love of wordplay in this book, and it’s full of songs and poems and funny names for funnier types of candy. One thing that caught my eye, however, was the Oompa Loompas. In the book they’re depicted with rosy white skin and golden hair. This was quite different from my memory of the orange-faced, green-haired dwarves in the 1970s film adaptation, so I did a bit of research. Apparently, the Oompa Loompas were originally pygmies from Africa and were recruited by Wonka as free labour in exchange for chocolate.
Ten years and some significant controversy later, this depiction was considered by the publishers to no longer be suitable, so the Oompa Loompas were changed. Although most of his stories have stood the test in time, it’s always good to remember that writers are real people, products of their time, and don’t always get it right.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is a timeless story about social inequality with a clear moral that being wealthy doesn’t make you a good person, and being successful doesn’t guarantee you’ll raise your kids well. It’s also a wonderful story about how sometimes you have to suspend logic to enjoy magic.
Today marks 100 years since the famous children’s author Roald Dahl was born. I’ve been on a bit of a Roald Dahl Read-a-thon and I’ve been aiming to read 7 of his books before the anniversary of his birthday. I managed to get through all 7 in the nick of time, and number 4 was “The BFG”. Interestingly, Danny’s father in “Danny the Champion of the World” tells him stories about the BFG, and it’s kind of nice seeing how Dahl’s stories cross over. This book has also recently been adapted into a live action film.
“The BFG” by Roald Dahl is about a little girl called Sophie who lives in an orphanage in London. Unable to sleep one night, she spies a strange giant sneaking around the streets doing something mysterious. Startled about being seen, the Big Friendly Giant snatches Sophie from her bed and takes her back to Giant Land where she makes some terrible discoveries about the other giants. Even though she’s very small, Sophie hatches a big plan and she and the BFG work together to save the children of the world.
This book is a good companion book to “The Witches“. Instead of grotestque women who hate children, you have giant grotesque men who eat children. Instead of an orphan boy and his grandma who save the day with ingenuity, you have an orphan girl and her giant friend who save the day with ingenuity. Also like “The Witches”, this book (despite being a children’s book) talks about children dying which I found quite confronting. Dahl doesn’t baby his readers. Decisions have real consequences, and this book deals with choices between effective action and ineffective action.
Although perhaps not my favourite of his children’s stories, “The BFG” is a robust, funny and at times serious book about how you don’t have to be big to be a hero.
I’m up to book 3 on my Roald Dahl reading challenge, and this time I decided to pick “The Witches”. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book and I remember having a bit of a love/hate relationship with it when I was a kid.
“The Witches” by Roald Dahl is a book about a little boy who ends up living with his beloved Norwegian grandmother after his parents are killed in a car crash. The boy, who is never named, is a stoic and cheerful lad and lives happily with his enigmatic grandmother who teaches him about the greatest danger there is to children: witches. When she falls ill, the doctor orders that they go on holiday to the seaside and there the boy makes a terrifying discovery. Making the most of a bad situation and using all the ingenuity has, he and his grandmother must try to save the children of England from the witches’ wicked plot.
This book has all the elements of Roald Dahl’s classics: the plucky, quiet and clever child; the vulgar and grotesque villain who thrives on abusing children; the genius hare-brained scheme. The relationship between the boy and his elderly grandmother is quite wonderful. However, there’s something about “The Witches” that is missing the charm of some of his other books. Some people over the years have criticised this book for being sexist, which I don’t think is right. Yes the witches are women, but so is the grandmother. Maybe it’s the fate of the boy that doesn’t sit so well with me, something the film adaptation tried to rectify, but I don’t think it’s that either. Maybe it’s because this book actually deals not just with children suffering at the whim of horrible adults, but actually dying. I always remember finding this book very much a Roald Dahl book but at the same time frightening and unsettling as a child. I actually think in some ways this book has more in common with his adult short stories than it does with his children’s stories.
I think “The Witches” is not one of my favourite Roald Dahl books, and it still makes me feel as uncomfortable as it did as a child. There aren’t really any funny bits, just a lot of tragedy and adversity that the main characters cope with well. Maybe that’s a good lesson for kids to learn, but I think I prefer his other books.
As I talked about in my review of Matilda, I’m currently on a bit of a Roald Dahl kick inspired by the upcoming 100 years since he was born this September. I already have a fair few of his books in my collection, so I picked another favourite of mine, “Danny the Champion of the World”. I used to have this book as an audiobook on cassette tape (which makes me sound unbelievably old) when I was a kid, and I listened to it regularly.
“Danny the Champion of the World” by Roald Dahl is about a young boy called Danny who lives with his father in a small, wooden Romani caravan. Danny’s mother died when he was very small, and his father raises him alone while working in his small petrol station and car workshop. They live very happily together and live a modest but idyllic life. When Danny is about 9 years old, he discovers that his father has a bit of a secret. Danny, who has always looked up to his father as a hero, finds an opportunity to be one himself.
I always enjoyed Roald Dahl when I was a kid, but rereading his books as an adult I have a much greater appreciation for the positive messages woven into his stories. “Danny the Champion of the World” is an absolute stellar example of a good relationship between a father and a son. Without any ceremony whatsoever, Dahl depicts a father perfectly capable of raising a healthy, happy and well-balanced child. In particular I love the love, trust and mutual respect between Danny and his dad. His dad tells him stories, kisses him goodnight and uses affectionate language like “my darling” and “my love”. By the end of the story, Danny is 9 years old and he and his dad still hold hands and that family affection is celebrated rather than ridiculed and condescended. There are clear set rules, but for both father and son. Danny’s views are listened to and respected. Promises made are promises kept. Danny is the narrator and he frequently refers to his father as the best father ever, and I don’t think he’s wrong. Dahl’s books are very empowering to children. They teach kids that adults can sometimes be mean, and spiteful and wrong. They teach kids that hard work and cleverness often bring solutions to problems. They teach kids that their thoughts, feelings and ideas are important.
This book should be mandatory reading in all schools and is an absolute shining example of healthy male relationships.
Next month, on 13 September 2016, 100 years since the birth of renown children’s author Roald Dahl is being celebrated. For my readers in Australia, Penguin is currently running a readathon contest to mark this momentous day. To go into the running for a weekend away to Brisbane to see Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of Dahl’s book “Matilda”, you have to read at least 7 of Roald Dahl’s books by 13 September and answer the quizzes online. Challenge accepted.
As the prize is to see “Matilda”, and it’s one of my favourite of Dahl’s books, I thought I would start with that. “Matilda” is about a young and prodigious girl who is emotionally neglected by her rather awful parents. Left alone all day, she eventually discovers the library and entertains herself by reading more and more complex examples of English literature. When she eventually (and somewhat belatedly) starts school, she meets the wonderful teacher Miss Honey and the violent, abusive and unhinged principal known as the Trunchbull. Finding herself as marginalised and understimulated at school as she was at home, Matilda channels her anger and frustration and finds that she’s able to achieve the impossible.
Rereading “Matilda” as an adult was really quite delightful. It’s a timeless classic and Roald Dahl’s jokes still get a laugh out of me. At one point in the book, Matilda tells Miss Honey that her critique of the “Narnia” series by C. S. Lewis, “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkein and adult books in general is that there aren’t enough funny bits in them. I have to say, I’m inclined to agree. I really liked that the majority of the characters in this book were women. Matilda is a literary and mathmatical genius, her friend Lavender is very happy to go fishing for newts and the boil-nosed Hortensia is an expert pranker. I also really like how empowering this book is for children, and how Dahl really shines a light on ways adults can hurt children, directly or indirectly, and how other adults don’t always believe children when they disclose abuse. I think my only critique of this book is that I find that Dahl’s villians are almost always ugly or grotesque in some way. While it’s fun to laugh at the exaggerated features of bad guys, I think it’s important to learn that bad guys often just look like normal people.
“Matilda” is a book that will always hold a special place in my heart. Only a couple of Christmases ago my mum bought me a limited edition print of Quentin Blake’s illustration of Matilda reading in the library. As someone who was once a little girl who also spent all her time reading, Matilda was an important role model to me. She taught me that girls can be brilliant, girls can spend their time reading quietly, girls can be pranksters and girls can get their hands dirty. I know Matilda will keep inspiring children to stand up to bullies and, just importantly, to read.