Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Yesterday was Roald Dahl's birthday, so in honor of that, I've decided to dedicate this post to him and some of his children's books.  He was born in 1916 in Wales, to Norwegian parents.  Dahl's father and elder sister died when he was only three, so he and his siblings were raised by their mother.  She used to tell them tales of Norwegian folklore - about trolls and other mythical creatures.

Roald Dahl didn't enjoy his schooldays and his unhappy memories greatly influenced his writing.  He did, however, enjoy trips to the sweetshops as a young boy.  And when he was older, his boarding school was close to Cadbury's  factory...sound familiar? At boarding school, he got in the habit of writing to his mother once every week (a habit that continued for over thirty years, until her death).

Dahl was 23 years old when WWII broke out and he joined the Royal Air Force.  He was sent home as an invalid, after "surviving a direct hit at the Battle of Athens". Eventually he was sent to Washington, where he was enlisted to help publicize the British war effort by writing a piece for THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.  His writing career was underway.  This account is from the Roald Dahl Official WEBSITE:

Roald Dahl's first book for children was not, as many suppose, JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH but THE GREMLINS, a picture book published in 1943 and adapted from a script written for Disney. Walt Disney had invited the 25 year-old Roald to Hollywood, given him the use of a car and put him up at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  The story of THE GREMLINS focused on the mischievous spirits that, according to RAF legend, cause aircraft-engine failures.  In the end, the project to make a movie version was abandoned but the book was published.  Roald was never very keen on THE GREMLINS and didn't really think of it as a children's book.  Nevertheless, it caught Eleanor Roosevelt's eye and Roald became a not infrequent guest at the White House and FDR's weekend retreat, Hyde Park.

Dahl first became interested in writing children's books by inventing bedtime stories for his own two daughters.  His stories are especially good for reading aloud.  Here are some of our favorites (many with illustrations by Quentin Blake)...

THE BFG - "Big Friendly Giant" - Sophie, an eight-year-old orphan, is kidnapped by the BFG and taken to Giantland, where her friendly alliance with the BFG and the queen of England results in the capture of the nine evil giants.
FANTASTIC MR. FOX - Mr. Fox has to continually keep one step ahead of the three farmers whose cruel obsession is the extermination of the Fox family.  I also highly recommend the recent stop-motion animated feature of Fantastic Mr. Fox!
MATILDA - From Publisher's Weekly: "Adults may cringe at Dahl's excesses in describing the cruel Miss Trunchbull, as well as his reliance on overextended characterization at the expense of plot development. Children, however, with their keenly developed sense of justice, will relish the absolutes of stupidity, greed, evil and might versus intelligence, courage and goodness." (Sadly, Miss Trunchbull is based on one of Dahl's own teachers at a boarding school he attended from ages 9-13).

Roald Dahl had many passions and interests outside of his writing.  He also suffered many family tragedies in his lifetime, but they did not make him bitter.  He continually tried to overcome them with positive action.  One example of this is when his four-month-old son Theo became brain damaged after a car accident.  Dahl, along with two friends - one a neurosurgeon, the other an engineer - spent months developing a valve that would drain fluid from the brain to allow his son to live free of machines.  (It was used for years, until being finally surpassed by new developments in technology; and Theo made a spectacular recovery!)

Roald Dahl died November 23, 1990, at the age of 74 from a rare blood disorder.  For more books, information, and fun facts about Roald Dahl, don't miss his website, http://www.roalddahl.com/.

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