A Quick Guide to Roald Dahl Reads

Happy Roald Dahl day! Mr Dahl was born on this day, 101 years ago. If you’ve been around here a while, you might know that I’ve found a friend or two in his writing, but if you’re still waiting to dive into his books, here is a list to help you choose the right book for the right occasion.

For an adventure, try…

James and the Giant Peach. If you’re in the mood to travel but feel too cosy at home, this is the book for you. Get ready for a wild journey with a tinge of magic, a series of mad schemes, and a very unusual cast of characters.

The BFG. The ingredients (magic… mad plans… unusual characters…) are the same, the story wildly different. But both books dare you to be brave, and to follow your dreams even if they take you in unexpected directions.

For an empowering read, try…

Matilda. It’s a story of mind over matter, sprinkled with moments of humour and hope. It encourages you to persevere, to believe in your abilities, and to stand up for what you believe in. It also makes a pretty good case for reading all the books you can get your hands on!

“Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog.” — Matilda to her friend Lavender

For something uplifting, try…

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My Friends Matilda, Charlie, Danny and James

“Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop! The great big greedy nincompoop!”

I could recite pretty much the whole poem from memory. Like many people, I read Roald Dahl when I was a child but unlike most, I never really outgrew him. Some might have acquired a taste for the classics, others may have dived into the contemporary. But amongst all the books I have opened, all the pages I have turned, all the stories I have lived in, Roald Dahl’s remain my constant companions.

Why?

Well. Looking back at his work now, as an ‘adult’ (and I’m using that term loosely here), I’d by lying if I said my opinion hasn’t changed. I was telling my mother about one of my favourite parts in Matilda just hours ago – where Matilda puts superglue on her father’s hat. Saying it out loud made me realise just how strong her sense of vengeance is.

Fuelled by the occasional article skimmed online, I also began to wonder if books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches are sexist. Some characters’ punishments seem a lot more cruel in retrospection (seriously, how harshly are the children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory punished?!). And the enormous crocodile and the Twits scare me much more than they did years ago.

But despite everything, I can never forget the feelings his words evoked. Reading a book of his was like listening to my grandmother spin captivating tales out of thin air. It was chatting with someone who’s always ready with a spine-cracking joke at the right moment. It was laughing about everything and nothing with my closest friends on a lazy afternoon.

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What do you look for in a book?

Some elements that make a good story, in my opinion, with some examples that show those qualities.
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1. Storytelling

I believe a good story requires a good balance between revealing and withholding information. If everything is given away too quickly, the reader may lose interest, and the same thing may happen if the story goes on and on with nothing to capture the reader’s interest in the first place. I think a story is more compelling when it reveals just enough so that the reader starts and continues to read, and then gradually gives away more information, like a trail of breadcrumbs. Example: Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

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