“I’m probably more pleased with my children’s books than with my adult short stories. Children’s books are harder to write. It’s tougher to keep a child interested because a child doesn’t have the concentration of an adult. A child knows the television is in the next room. It’s tough to hold a child, but it’s a lovely thing to to try to do.”
For many children, Roald Dahl is the first author they’re introduced to – or at least, the first one to create such incredible worlds and show them the power of language, even though he died in 1990.
I had a teacher in year five who would read us excerpts from Dahl’s Boy every day before school ended, and even stories about his life were enough to get everyone interested in reading his books because of how he wrote them. He’s now my neighbour and is currently reading it in celebration of Dahl’s birthday!
Having written throughout the latter half of the 20th century, millions of people have read his books, watched his TV shows and seen films inspired by his writing. He’s most well known for his children’s books, normally told from the perspective of a child. They tend to have adult villains who hate and bully children, and a ‘good’ adult. Dahl himself was abused in boarding schools he went to as a child, and this stock character selection could be in reference to that.
His stories see the child triumph over the evil in their lives – Amanda Craig, children’s book critic said “He was unequivocal that it is the good, young and kind who triumph over the old, greedy and the wicked.”. Despite their positivity, they often have a lot of dark and violent moments, demonstrated in novels such as The Witches, James And The Giant Peach and Matilda. His writing style appeals to children’s imaginations – the way his child characters act and talk are easy for a child to identify with. Adults may see his characters as exaggerated, but children do not.
Dahl shows children in an entertaining way that of course the world can be a lovely place but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad things that happen, and bad people too. He gives them a small and unassuming character who overcomes the bad things, who wins despite the odds, whether it’s a child escaping an abusive family and headteacher, or a fox and his family outwitting the farmers hunting them.
His books encouraged children to read because he understood how they worked; how they loved to say words that sounded fun. Words that ended in -ozz or -iggle, nonsensical words that have sense in context like grobblesquirt, whiffswiddle and sogmire. He build words and blended syllables and loved a good spoonerism, like Dahl’s Chickens (Charles Dickens). He created worlds that seemed believable, like they could be happening around the corner, like there was a little bit of magic in a peach or a marvellous chocolate factory up the road. I actually cycled up to the top of town with my friend to go to the local chocolate factory when I was younger and we were severely disappointed at how boring it was in comparison…
Roald Dahl has created stories which are still loved by children decades after being written, and is no doubt one of the most iconic children’s authors. A massive happy 100th birthday to him!