Roald Dahl was born 0n September 13th and to commemorate his birthday, we took a trip down memory lane!
The Welsh author was referred to as “the most popular writer of children’s books since Enid Blyton”, according to Philip Howard, the literary editor of The Times, who was inspired by stories of trolls and witches present in the dark Scandinavian fables as told to him as a child by his mother.
Here are our favourite childhood books by him:
A story about an extraordinarily four-year-old whose parents are crass, dishonest, self-centered, and plain mean. Life with her parents and tyrannic headmistress Ms Trunchbull is bearable only because Matilda teaches herself to read and spends time in the public library, discovering the joy of literature. Matilda also loves using telekinesis – which is an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to move a physical object without physical interaction, to perpetrate daring acts of revenge on her father and Ms Trunchbull. Children, with their keenly developed sense of justice, will relish the absolutes of stupidity, greed, evil and might versus intelligence, courage and goodness.
James And The Giant Peach
The plot centres on a young English orphan boy who is forced to live with two evil aunts who don’t feed him well and make him sleep on floorboards. One day, he meets a mysterious man who gives him green beans and says that if he would drink it his life would be full of adventures. While going to his home he falls and the beans spill on a peach tree which produces a single peach which grows to the size of a house. Thus begin his adventure of who entering a gigantic, magical peach, and has a wild and surreal cross-world adventure with seven magically-altered garden bugs he meets.
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
11-year-old Charlie Bucket lives in poverty in a small house with his parents and four grandparents. One day, Grandpa Joe tells him about the legendary and eccentric chocolatier Willy Wonka and all the wonderful candies he made until the other candymakers sent in spies to steal his secret recipes, which led him to close the factory to outsiders. The next day, the newspaper announces that Wonka is reopening the factory and has invited five children to come on a tour, after they find a Golden Ticket in a Wonka Bar. By chance, Charlie gets a golden ticket too and leads us into a world full of chocolatey adventures!
Did you know? This story was originally inspired by Roald Dahl’s experience of chocolate companies during his own school days! Cadbury would often send test packages to the schoolchildren in exchange for their opinions on the new products, and at that time (around the 1920s), Cadbury and Rowntree’s were England’s two largest chocolate makers and they each often tried to steal trade secrets by sending spies, posing as employees, into the other’s factory. Because of this, both companies became highly protective of their chocolate-making processes. It was a combination of this secrecy and the elaborate, often gigantic, machines in the factory that inspired Dahl to write the story.
George’s Marvelous Medicine
A book that came will safety concerns so children wouldn’t try to recreate it, the plot centres around 8-year-old George whose parents go out shopping, while George’s maternal grandmother babysits him and bullies him. To punish her for her regular abuse, George decides to make a magic medicine to replace her old one. He collects a variety of ingredients from around the family farm including deodorant and shampoo from the bathroom, floor polish from the laundry room, horseradish sauce and gin from the kitchen, animal medicines, engine oil and anti-freeze from the garage, and brown paint to mimic the colour of the original medicine and then… feeds it to her. Thus begins a tale of how marvelous this medicine is and what it does once you drink it!
Did you know? Being a medical expert was one of what Dahl called his “dreams of glory”: he had huge respect for doctors and particularly those who pioneered new treatments. He dedicated the book to “doctors everywhere.”
(I am particularly attached to this one as this was the first ever Roald Dahl book I ever read when I in 2nd grade.)
The story is about a little girl called Sophie who lives in an orphanage who can’t sleep, and sees a strange sight in the street; a giant man, carrying a bag and an odd trumpet. He sees Sophie, who tries to hide in bed, but the giant picks her up through the window and takes her to a cave where he lives. She begs him not to eat her. The giant laughs, and explains that he will not eat her, as he is the BFG, or the Big Friendly Giant. The BFG then explains what he was doing with the trumpet and suitcase. He catches dreams, stores them in the cave, and then gives the good ones to children all around the world and destroys the bad ones!
Did you know? The book is dedicated to Dahl’s late daughter, Olivia, who died of measles encephalitis at the age of seven in 1962.