Wednesday, March 10, 2010

James and the Giant Peach

By Roald Dahl
119 pages
Copyright 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf
Source: Christmas gift 1969 from my aunt

Poor James was leading a perfectly fine life until one day his parents went to London where they were eaten by a rhinoceros who had escaped from the zoo. From then on he is sent to live in the middle of nowhere with his Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge--two exceedingly nasty spinsters who treat James as if he were their slave and don't allow him to leave their hill. Then one day a strange man approaches James at the fence with a bag full of mystery green things and tell him to eat them and they will make his life better. As James' luck would have it, he falls as he goes back up the hill, dropped the bag, and watching sadly as all of the green things disappear into the earth. All is not lost, however. Those little green creatures work their magic on an old peach tree that hasn't produced fruit in years. Soon there begins to grow a single peach that grows and grows until it is so enormous that the aunts are selling opportunities to see it. After the crowds leave, as James is being forced to clean up the mess the crowds have left, he discovers a hole in the peach and follows the tunnel that it is the opening to, only to discover a room in the center, filled with an assortment of insects and bugs that are now as big as he is, thanks to the same magic that grew the peach. One of them, the centipede, goes to work on chewing the peach loose from the tree and soon the group finds themselves bouncing down the hill, landing in the ocean and beginning a great adventure.

Only Roald Dahl can write a book where, in the second paragraph no less, he kills off both parents by having them eaten by a rhinoceros and still call it a children's book! All of his books feature some sort of horrible thing happening to the hero or heroine, all of them include some threat of danger and all of them include some kind of fantastical, magical thing. If they were written today, people would probably rail against them for being too violent for children. Fortunately, they were written years ago, when they could teach the lesson that even the smallest of us can survive and flourish despite the most terrible of odds. On re-reading this book, I'm convinced that Lemony Snicket, of A Series of Unfortunate Events, was heavily influenced by Dahl. I'm sure he wasn't the only one.

The book is also filled with wonderful poems and plenty to keep even an adult entertained. If you have young children, I recommend you read this one with them! I re-read this one as part of a couple of challenges and I found myself reading great passages of it to my 18-year-old who was equally amused.

14 comments:

  1. This was one of my favorite books growing up. I still have my copy! I always enjoyed it and read it many many times.

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  2. I LOVED Roald Dahl as a kid, and this (along with The Witches and Boy) was one of my favorites. Good observation on the Lemony Snicket connection--I can totally see it!

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  3. This is one of the few that I haven't read yet!! Now I'm going to have to check it out of my middle school library!

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  4. Have you read any of Dahl's adult works? When you mentioned something horrible happening to the main characters in his books, I thought of one his short stories called "Pig." It was pretty gross.

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  5. I don't think I knew that Dahl had written anything intentionally for grown ups, Charley. But if they're "gross," I think I'll pass.

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  6. I remember my teacher reading this aloud in 3rd grade-it was so much fun!

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  7. I loved this book and so did my son! I think it's fantastic that you still have the copy that you got for a Christmas gift over 40 years ago!

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  8. I have to say that Roald Dahl is one of the few authors that my son consistently liked. Everything of Dahl's I read to him, including this one, was a treat. Dahl's stories are so wildly imaginative.

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  9. Roald Dahl was probably my favorite author for a time as a child, although I think my favorites were always the BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - I'd definitely recommend those if you haven't gotten around to them yet! Thanks for taking me back!

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  10. my husband loved this book--his 2nd grade teacher read it to his class--but i never read it. i actually took it out from the library with best intentions but couldn't get into it. don't toss stones at me!! :)

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  11. This was so one of my favorite books as a kid...Miss Lopez read it out loud and after that I reread it too many times on my own...once in my early 30s:) His books, like Snicket's transcend age they are so good.

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  12. I'm glad to see it was still so magical. I'll have to consider reading this one to my boys this summer.

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  13. You know, I'd completely forgotten about this book! I am glad it still held magic for you. I should reread Roald Dahl. Though I think I would freak out if I were to read The Witches again. I remember that book SCARED me!

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  14. I love this book!!!! The copy you've got is precious.

    I did a review on this book too at http://ruzbookshelves.blogspot.com/2010/06/roald-dahl-bookathon-james-and-giant.html

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