Roald Dahl is one of the best-known names in children’s literature and for good reason. His canon of works is vast and just as popular to boot.
Like many authors, Dahl started out with a day job in his writing career. Where he deviates from a lot of authors is that instead of being a teacher, waiter, or any other commonly held job Dahl held a job with a bit more drama and intensity. Dahl was a fighter pilot in World War Two. On top of that, he proved to be a pretty good one. During this time Dahl also started publishing his work and though we know him for his children’s books he was also an accomplished poet and screenwriter. So how’s that for a day job?
Perhaps what makes Dahl’s writing so loveable is his ingenious sense of comedy and his consistent trust of young readers. He doesn’t sugarcoat his storytelling but that hardly seems of consequence as anything that might be deemed too big or scary for children is placated by his practical thought and light wit. It’s the perfect combination of writing traits to make fiction that is enjoyable at any age. His work is universal in this tone, but three books in particular are my personal favorites.
It’s near impossible to write a top three roundup of Roald Dahl’s work and not talk about Matilda. Here’s a book with some lighthearted spunk to it. The book is so popular it’s garnered a much-beloved movie adaptation as well as a full-fledged West End musical treatment.
The story follows the eponymous young girl, who is a thoughtful, intelligent outcast in a family of lowbrow swindlers. As her family antagonizes her, Matilda finds more and more ingenious ways to prank and confuse them in an attempt to stimulate her intellect. She begins reading voraciously from the library and her intelligence only grows. But when her parents enroll her in a school that forces her into a simpler grade level, Matilda’s active mind starts taking on strange and wonderful powers, and just in time. Matilda will need all her wits about her to face down the terrifying head of her school and the secret she is holding.
In the world of books that inspire children to become avid readers, Matilda is at the top of the list. While she may be a cheeky child, Matilda’s good and loving nature is a celebration of intelligence and self-discovery. She’s a resourceful girl and the use of her intellect and telekinetic powers are enough to make any child dream that they might be able to do the same someday.
This book has so much charm to it it’s not even funny. I don’t know where to begin. Granted, by title alone it may not seem like a book you would go to expecting charm, but that’s just how Roald Dahl writes, after all. Take the giant or ludicrous, add charm and wit, and tell a story for all to enjoy. The Witches is no exception.
The story follows a young boy who, after his parents die in a car accident, is taken in by his sweet but hardy grandmother. Is the first to tell him about witches and warns him how to recognize them and cautions him to avoid them at all costs. According to her, witches are everywhere and they all serve the same purpose: to find and destroy children. Things go well for our young hero for a while, but when he and his grandmother take a trip they find their hotel has some guests with sinister inclinations that tick a lot of boxes in the witch department.
This book is simply unapologetic in the leaps it makes and it absolutely works. The premise, the characters, the events, all of it is steeped in total trust that the reader’s ability to suspend disbelief and the result is a book that doesn’t hold back where other books might be a little more reserved. Dahl is a fearless writer, but that fearlessness manifests itself in subtle ways. The Witches is a charming, fun romp that wonderfully celebrates the relationship between grandparent and grandchild.
The Vicar of Nibbleswicke
This story is short, sweet, and nothing but a fun romp through storytelling. Differing from a lot of his work, this story is a much shorter book even for children and can be read in a quick, happy sitting.
Here Dahl brings readers the Reverend Robert Lee who is the newly minted vicar of Nibbleswicke. Unfortunately for poor Reverend Lee, he becomes afflicted with a strange malady. He suffers from the fictional Back to Front Dyslexia which causes him to reverse whatever happens to be the most important word in his sentence. The erstwhile vicar is completely unaware of his own affliction and what ensues in his congregation is nothing short of bewilderment and pandemonium. With him reversing words like knits to stink and calling Miss Prewt, the wealthy benefactor of the church, Miss Twerp, the poor Vicar of Nibbleswicke is in need of some serious medical attention and not a moment too soon.
Once again, Dahl uses his ability to embrace a ridiculous and silly premise and turn it into something believable and sweet. With each mishap, the lovable vicar’s circumstances seem more and more ludicrous and the comedy of this read has a little something for everyone