‘The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.’ Matilda, Roald Dahl
Didn’t Dahl capture in four sentences exactly why we all love reading and what we want for the children we teach? For me, growing up in a rather lovely little village reading Ballet Shoes and MalloryTowers, The Twits was a rather rude awakening into another world. A world where I laughed out loud, was it because the rather prim and proper Miss Wigmore on reading Dahl’s The Twits to us had to say the word Twit? A lot. Or was it because it was downright funny? What a revolting couple they were but didn’t you think deep down they deserved each other? Dahl got what made children laugh, what made them want to read on. Short chapters, a fast pace, quality illustrations from Quentin Blake and dirty, foul-smelling descriptions of human functions described in multi-layered detail that your teacher read to you. Glorious. I think it is also why I can’t to this day eat spaghetti, wriggly, squiggly, wormy spaghetti. That’s Dahl’s legacy to me!
‘The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.’
A disaffected youth turning to crime? A gritty novel set in downtown Coventry? No, just a normal, everyday event for Little Red Riding Hood – according to Roald Dahl. His comic versions of popular traditional tales, Revolting Rhymes, were written initially as a sort of joke, and were published in 1982.
The collection of six extended poems turns the sweet world of charming princes and plucky heroes on its head, and gives children what they really love – naughty, subversive, rude, laugh-out-loud stories that they think grown-ups probably wouldn’t approve of. In the world of Revolting Rhymes, an Ugly Sister has her head cut off by the Prince, Snow White devises a way to win at gambling, Goldilocks comes to a very sticky end and the Three Little Pigs are saved by a knife-wielding Red Riding Hood. Every class I have shared them with has absolutely adored them, and would ask to hear them again and again, and perform them along with me. And of course, Dahl’s use of words such as ‘knickers’ always ensured an eager audience just waiting to hear their teacher say it.
The book has become part of my teachers toolkit, something I know will never fail to amuse, enthuse and inspire children. And I can’t help but snort with laughter at:
‘It made the Ugly Sisters wince
To see her dancing with the Prince.
She held him very tight and pressed
Herself against his manly chest.’
If you want to hear the great man read Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf aloud, try the Poetry Archive site.
Sharing was a large part of my life as a child. My sister is just 14 months younger than me and so growing up was a shared endeavour. We shared toys, books and our bedroom. After being tucked up in the evening we were allowed to read for an hour before ‘lights out’: and being a pair of books worms we never missed an opportunity to bury our noses in a good book or two.
Back in the late 1970s the ‘must have’ book for any self-respecting member of our primary school was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remember going to town with my parents and my sister and buying Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. They were to be shared. To be owned by both of us. I’m certain though, that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was mine and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was my sister’s (I suspect that my sister will dispute this!) Ownership aside, we loved those books – and particularly Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I have such clear memories of lying in my bed, reading Charlie and thinking myself very clever indeed for understanding what Veruca Salt and her mother found so difficult to comprehend – square sweets that look round.
“He took the key from his pocket, and unlocked the door, and flung it open … and suddenly … at the sound of the door opening, all the rows of little square sweets looked quickly round to see who was coming in. The tiny faces actually turned towards the door and stared at Mr Wonka.
‘There you are!’ he cried triumphantly. ‘They’re looking round! There’s no argument about it! They are square sweets that look round!'”
So what of today’s young readers? Well, Dahl’s books still fly off the shelves of libraries and book shops. They can be seen in classrooms across the country. Roald Dahl has influenced a new generation of anarchic children’s writers such as Andy Stanton and David Walliams – as can be seen in our pupil book review by Ben Broome.
On Thursday 13th September we celebrate Roald Dahl Day. His legacy can be felt in each of our reviews and we write with some certainty that his writing has touched you too. What’s your favourite Dahl?