Like most kids, I adored Roald Dahl’s books growing up. I could sit for hours listening to my mum or sister read them to me. And as I got older, I would sit and read them over and over by myself.
As an adult, I now adore his short stories which are filled with twists, turns and dark humour, but I still have a major soft spot for his children’s books.
To Celebrate Roald Dahl Day I thought I’d write a quick post about my 5 favourite children’s books by Roald Dahl. It was a tough choice but I think I’m finally happy with the list.
1. The Twits
I’m not sure if it actually was or not but this is the first Roald Dahl book I remember reading for myself and it will always be one of my all-time favourite books.
If for whatever reason, you’ve been living under a rock and have never read the Twits, you are missing out. Big time. The Twits are ugly people inside and out and the book is a fantastic lesson, for kids, that being a good person will get you far. Being an ugly person will cause you to shrink away into nothingness.
It’s funny but yucky from the outset. Dahl opens by describing the Twits in all the disgustingness, from the food stuck in Mr Twit’s beard (he’s saving it for later) to the deterioration of Mrs Twit’s former beauty as a result of ugly thoughts. It’s in this opening that I learnt one of the most important lessons I think a girl can ever learn:
The book then continues as the Twits proceed to play meaner and meaner pranks on each other; from feeding Mr Twit worms, to convincing Mrs Twit that she has the shrinks. Their downfall begins when they turn from treating each other badly to terrorising local children and animals. I won’t spoil it but let’s just say you’re seriously rooting for the monkies that take them down.
Summary: It’s hilarious but dark with a serious lesson to be learnt.
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Ok, I’m sure this one tops a lot of lists but how can it not? It’s wonderful, magical, and taps into every kids’ dream – who would turn down a lifetime supply of chocolate?
Again, it has this darker side to it that is quintessentially Dahl but it fits so perfectly alongside the wonder and mystery of the chocolate factory setting that it just works. I mean, let’s take a look at the plot; Charlie and his family are poor. So poor they’re pretty much eating one cabbage between them every meal and by sheer luck and belief and by being a good person, Charlie wins the trip of a lifetime to Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
While he’s there he experiences the chocolate room, where everything is edible and a chocolate waterfall flows throughout; the everlasting gobstopper; oompa loompas; gum that has the taste of a 3-course meal!
There’s also the small problem of the children being picked off one by one as a result of their rule-breaking or gluttony or behaving like a spoilt brat. Again, there’s a lesson in here and Roald Dahl teaches it without being preachy.
Summary: One of the most magical of all Roald Dahl’s books, despite there never being any actual magic. You will want to be Charlie Bucket.
Growing up, Matilda was one of the most relatable book characters for me. She loved reading, I loved reading. She was crazy intelligent, I was intelligent (practically Einstein by Barnsley’s standards…). She loved learning, I loved learning. When was I going to get my magic powers?!
Sadly, my magical powers never surfaced but Matilda always made me feel like they could.
For those of you who might not know, Matilda is the story of a young girl with horrific parents who loves to get lost in a good book. She’s fiercely intelligent, resourceful, independent and she loves to learn. When she starts at school she forms a close bond with her teacher Miss Honey who encourages her to keep learning and truly believes in her.
However, she also hast to fight against one of the scariest villains of all time – Ms Trunchbull. She’s a former-hammer throwing champion turned head teacher, who believes there’s nothing better than children being neither seen or heard. She’s not adverse to literally flinging children around the school or locking them in the chokey for hours at a time.
Anyway, Matilda somehow develops crazy telekinetic powers and uses them to fight off the demon-like headmistress and find her happy ending. Again, Dahl shows his darker side here by showing that not all kids have a happy childhood or home life and that adults aren’t always right. Luckily, amongst all the magic and fun, he teaches an important lesson that by being a good, kind person who’s always learning, you can fight against the ignorant and the mean people of the world and find your happy ending.
Summary: A good book can help you get through anything. Matilda, the character, knows this and this book could be the one to get you through.
4. The Witches
When I was a kid I loved anything to do with magic or horror or the supernatural. I read everything I could with vampires or ghosts or witches or any other creepy-being. Thinking back now, maybe it was The Witches that started that obsession for me?
If I’m honest, I remember watching the film before I watched the book. The terrifying story of the little girl trapped in the painting and the transformation of the witches, especially the Grand High Witch removing her mask, are still 2 of the scariest scenes I’ve ever watched.
But back to the book. The story is of a young boy who hears his grandmother’s tales of back when she was a witch-hunter and her warnings of how witches hate children. Then, whilst on holiday he accidentally stumbles upon a meeting of all of England’s witches, including the Grand High Witch. You know thinking about it, I think she might be an even scarier villain than Trunchbull…
The witches discuss their plans to take down all of England’s children by turning them into mice, starting with the boy and his friend in the hotel. After being transformed into a mouse, the boy and his still-human grandmother plot to take down all the witches in the hotel! It’s great!
Summary: Definitely one of Dahl’s darker books with less of the humour of some of the others but I love it! I can’t decide whether I like the ending though… the film’s conclusion is much happier but apparently Roald Dahl himself hated it!
5. Revolting Rhymes
I struggled to pick my 5th favourite Roald Dahl book, there’s just so many amazing ones to choose from. I always enjoyed the BFG but don’t think it’s my favourite. I read George’s Marvellous Medicine a ridiculous amount of times. Fantastic Mr Fox, Boy, James and the Giant Peach, Esiot Trot were all essential parts of my childhood. I even remember enjoying some of the less well-known books that I grabbed from the library, like The Minpins.
But, then I realised there’s one book that comes above all the others. I remember, I begged my parents to get me the book for Christmas after being read one of the stories / poems in class when I was little. They came through and it was amazing. I read that book cover to cover so many times, I lost track, and I still have it today.
Revolting Rhymes was Roald Dahl’s answer to traditional fairy tales. He took the classics that we all know; Cinderella, The 3 Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and twisted them on their head. The resulting poems were dark and pretty messed up but ultimately, they taught some pretty great lessons whilst also being hilarious!
Take his version of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears. Dahl wasn’t afraid to call Goldilocks out for being a pretty awful kid – she broke into someone’s house, broke their furniture and stole their food. I remember reading it and thinking ‘Finally! Someone said it!’
Of course, the perfect companion to Revolting Rhymes was Dirty Beasts which was also a series of tales told as poems about marvellous, dangerous and extraordinary animals. While it is a great collection, it never quite resonated with me in the same way that Revolting Rhymes did.
Summary: If like me, you have a soft spot for Fairy Tales and parodies and want a book that combines them, this is it!