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Archive for January, 2017

We watched the Spielberg adaptation of “The BFG” last night. I felt that it was really well done and true to what I remembered from reading the book many years ago. With that and the release of the Netflix adaptation of Daniel Handler’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”, I got to thinking about how wonderful children’s literature can be. Indeed, the best children’s fiction can be enjoyed by adult readers. When J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books were first published, a woman I worked with, in her late thirties at the time, who was a non-reader, really got into reading them. Good writing gets people reading.

In regards to the film adaptation of “The BFG”, the best part was that both of my step-sons were engrossed in the story, despite the protagonist being a little girl! But this is Roald Dahl’s style: he wrote stories that appealed to both girls and boys alike. I have also always liked that the juvenile characters in Roald Dahl’s work are so strong: it gives strength the reader. In “The BFG” it really is Sophie that shows the BFG how to be strong. It was also wonderful to hear Dahl’s ‘scrumdiddlyumptious’ made-up, vocabulary on the screen.

Another thing about Dahl’s work in general is that much of it is quite subversive in it’s own way. In “The Twits”, the birds, usually destined to end up in Mrs. Twit’s bird pie, band together and outwit Mr. and Mrs. Twit. In “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, Mr. Fox saves his family and home, from three evil farmers, though it broke my heart, as a child, that he lost his beautiful brush. “The Magic Finger” is about an 8-year-old girl who uses her magic finger against people that upset her and make her “see red”. She detests hunting and by pointing her magic finger at them, she turns her duck-hunting neighbours into ducks and makes them mend their ways. (Of note, this was the first book I read that was written in first person.) I also recently watched “Matilda” (I have never read the book) in which Matilda has to overcome horrible parents (played magnificently by Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman) and an evil headmistress. Certainly Dahl’s work teaches us that not all adults, even parents, grandparents and teachers, are nice and kind. It is nice to see this, as well as the broad appeal, in other popular children’s books such as J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series and Daniel Handler’s “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”. Certainly, not everyone in real life is nice and will be kind to you. It was a shock, even as an adult, to see Matilda’s parents, not just willingly, but gleefully, giving up Matilda for adoption by Ms. Honey, however, we see this in a less simplistic sense when children are given up on in real life through choices that their parents make.

Some may say Dahl’s child characters are insubordinate and that isn’t something that should be incited in children – for example, in “George’s Marvellous Medicine” George basically poisons his grandmother (I will never forget Rik Mayall’s hilarious “Jackanory” narration of this story!), however my grandmother lived to see 93 and neither my brother or I, after reading this book, felt the need to whip up a ‘marvellous medicine’ to give to her! (It probably helped that our grandmother was nice, unlike George’s.)

I was fortunate to come from a book-loving home. I can’t say the school system helped foster my love of reading though with the assigned reading they implemented. I have never forgotten not being allowed to read “Super Gran” by Forrest Wilson (I was about 8 I think), until I had finished the Ladybird “Jane and Peter” series, books that, even at that young age, I found rigid in their gender roles (that is another blog post!). There was an abundance of great children’s literature out there in the late 70s and early 80s that encouraged kids to read. I loved Jill Murphy’s “Worst Witch” series as well as the “Arabel and Mortimer” books by Joan Aiken (illustrated by Quentin Blake, who also illustrated most of Roald Dahl’s books) and then there were older books such as the “Paddington Bear” books by Michael Bond and the pirate stories of Sheila K. McCullagh. There continues to be an abundance of great children’s fiction as writer’s who grew up on the likes of Dahl craft and publish their own stories. It is authors such as these that foster a love for reading from an early age. Authors such as Dahl also do this but perhaps take things a little bit further. I feel that reading Roald Dahl’s work at an early age, helped me to develop an inquiring mind, to begin to question social issues. (Which has been reflective in my choice of reading material ever since.) Books as a sort of rebellion – most fellow bookworms can remember getting into trouble for reading in math class or when they were supposed to be sleeping! But the biggest rebellion is the acquisition of knowledge because with knowledge is strength and power. It all starts with a great children’s book.

 

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