Needed to use Plinky again today – honestly, I have no idea where the creative spark has gone recently, but it is feeling dramatically absent. But, a good prompt – a children’s book every child should read . . .
The dearly departed Roald Dahl is the quintessential children’s author. He really did set the bar incredibly high for all us budding authors, as well as those successfully carving their path already.
Most of his children’s fiction is perfect for adult reading as well. There is nothing sentimental or ‘twee’ about his stories and they are filled with amazing feats of magic along with some truly terrifying moments. The characters he created are so vivid and entertaining and Dahl did not shrink away from depicting the truly disgusting attributes of human nature.
I often struggle to pick my favourite, they are all so remarkable. The BFG always lands high on the list, as does Matlida (I am hoping Steve has booked the birthday tickets to see the musical version at the RSC – Caroline, have a word!). Both feature little girls in quite sad and lonely worlds, but with the use of a little magic and some cracking writing, terrors and evil are vanquished. The stories take you on a mesmerising spin of fairytale wonder that no child or adult should miss.
But, at a push, I would have to say the preferred Dahl is The Witches, mostly because I find this story the most terrifying. When watching the Angelica Houston film version, I saw a lot of the back of the sofa! What child would not be happily disturbed by a gruesome gaggle of witches that hide amongst the ‘normal’ people, wiping out human children? Not only are they sinister in appearance, but they are the most deadly creature to threaten our everyday life.
As with most of the Dahl fiction, the lead characters tend to either be orphaned or in a sorry situation with regards to parents. The Witches is no different. After the death of his parents, a young boy is sent to live with his Norwegian grandmother, who begins to tell tales of the mysterious disappearings of children she has known. It turns out that witches are to blame, the worst being those living in England. The boy, like all readers of this book, instantly begins to look for signs of these ‘ladies’; the itchy scalps beneath their wigs, the broad feet with no toes hidden in pointy shoes, the long curved fingernails under a pair of gloves, and a certain despise of human children.
But, it is not so serious until they take a break to the English coast. Unbeknownst to Grandmother and child, their hotel is also home to an annual Witches conference and The Grand High Witch herself is in residence. The boy over hears plans for all the children in England to be fed magic laden sweets that will turn them into mice. The witches could then leave it to the human adults to kill all the nasty little rodents. A dastardly plan and one in which our hero undoubtedly becomes tangled.
It is a tremendous story. But one of the things I love about Dahl is that he refuses to patronise the reader. Even at the end of most of his books there is still a sadness. Although happy endings do happen and all seems on an even keel, Dahl does not once pretend that this is the end – he does not try to prove the existence of these mythical ‘happy ever after’ stories. And children really relate to this. It may be in a context which is slightly bizarre but these endings allow children to compare and reflect on their own lives. They begin to understand that you do have to work/fight for things you really want and believe in. But as I said at the top, without any hint of mushy sentiment.
They are perfect books for both boys and girls and every library across the world should contain a set. My big brother even bought me a brand new boxed set last year as my originals are now a little tatty. They have pride of place on my ‘pretty books’ shelf! And Steve bought me a limited edition print from The Witches which I absolutely adore . . .
But, if children’s fiction really isn’t your thing, then maybe try some of Roald Dahl’s adult fiction. I am yet to read any, but our house does contain several, including Kiss Kiss. If the darkness and danger that Dahl weaves so wonderfully through children’s fiction is present in his adult works, then they shouldn’t disappoint. I will (eventually) get around to reading some of his short stories and I shall let you know my thoughts when I do!