Saturday, June 09, 2007

Thank God for Roald Dahl

The summer vacation is drawing to a close. With it, karate, swimming, badminton, singing, dancing, acting and jazz ballet classes. All designed to keep kids out of their parents' rapidly thinning hair.

My daughter has no certificates, no end-of-summer performance to boast of. Blame it on my lack of planning, foresight or even kanjoosi. But all is not lost because she has achieved one important milestone. This was the summer she fell in love with reading.

Now reading was, is and will probably continue to be my favourite pastime. But then we grew up in a pre-internet, pre-mobile, pre-24-hour TV era. We had no choice - not that I'm complaining!

Times may have changed but reading is a habit you feel the need to inculcate. A joy you want your child to partake in. However, things did not go as per plan. Books failed to excite Nivedita. And at some point I had to ask myself, "Can the printed word compete with those mesmerising LCD screens?"

The question was answered quite unexpectedly. Nivedita discovered an author called Roald Dahl. No, it was not 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' which cast a spell but a book called 'Matilda'.

Matilda is the story of a little girl who happens to be a gifted child, born to two very dumb parents. These parents encourage her to watch TV, while she trots off to the local library and starts devouring books.

The only person who recognises Matilda's extraordinary talents is her teacher, Miss Honey. But the most interesting character is the headmistress - Miss Trunchbull. Perhaps the meanest headmistress on the planet. One of her favourite punishments is picking up children by the ear and then hurling them into the air, sledgehammer style.

Her idea of a perfect school would be "one in which there were no children at all.

It's all perfectly ridiculous, but the book captures the emotion of being a 6 year old at the mercy of a school system. There may be no principals as bad as The Trunchbull but trunchbullian streaks are everywhere. At least from the child's point of view.

Older people who don't understand them. Older people who create silly rules and punish you for breaking them.

In Miss Trunchbull (the mean older person) and Miss Honey (the nice older person), Roald Dahl has created a Villain and Hero which captures the child's imagination. The amazing thing is he did this in 1988, at age 74. Just two years before his death.

Which means, technically, he never grew old. He never forgot what it was like to be a kid.

Matilda was the first book Nivedita and I fought to read. We read much of it together, she a few chapters behind me.

The thing is, Matilda captured her imagination. She wanted to turn the pages and find out what next. And once it was over, she wanted more.

The moral of the story is books aren't irrelevant. But in the age of non stop digital stimulation and electronic excitement it took an exceptional book to get a 7 year old hooked to an old fashioned habit.

Thank God for the likes of Roald Dahl, and now J K Rowling. May the imagination soar higher and give wings to words.


  1. :D :D :D
    I am a _huge_ Dahl fan
    As i sit in my hostel desk and type this, along with the Douglas Adams a nd Stephen Kings, sit my most prized collection of books. The Dahls.

    Get her to read 'James and the Giant Peach', the imagery and the imagination is brilliant. And if you haven't, pick up the short stories by Dahl for adults. awesome awesome stuff.

    As awesome as the books are, all of his books talk about some pretty nasty violence, not sure if a kid should be reading that!

  2. 'Falling in love with reading' - what better certificate is required?!

  3. The movie was directed by Danny DiVito, he plays Matilda's father too. One funny moment is when he asks her what she is reading.
    "Moby Dick" she says , he is aghast saying "Moby WHAT?"..and tells her why he is disgusted by books.

  4. As per your theary is very short and explanary story for younger age

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. It is never too late to start reading...!

    It is all about that one good book.

    I read my first complete book when I was a 'grand old daddy' of 17 and the book I read was- Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne. Thoroughly loved it. Still do. I know, I was too old for that book but at least it got me started.

    And trust me, the juggernaut hasn't stopped rolling since then.

  7. Well written, miss b. For all people may like to complain about JK Rowling and Harry Potter, the fact remains that she is the only author in the last twenty years to get young kids to *want* to read. Make that fun for them and there's no looking nack.

    I started with Tintin and Asterix comics. And wit ha grandfather who loved to read.

    Thank you for adding one more well read child to the legion :)

  8. haa haa...hey do remember, starting reading is always enhanced by good books, so try giving her that (e.g. Ruskin Bond stuff)


  9. nice reading...btw roald dahl is really an amazing writer...even after so many yrs i still enjoy his short stories !!

  10. I have been a reader myself for sometime. But this is quite an introduction ! I am sure your daughter is quite blessed to have a parent like you !

    Will check this out...Thanks for sharing

  11. I grew up on Enid Blyton and it was only when I was in college that I realised that there was so much more children's literature out there. Dahl is one of my favourties - I actually wrote a paper on Matilda when I was in college. I was also told by my lit prof in college that nobody should graduate without reading Winnie The Pooh

  12. not related - but check out how iipm is staying ahead of the iims

  13. not related - but check out how iipm is staying ahead of the iims

  14. Indeed it is very difficult or next to impossible to get the kids to get glued to anything other than Tom & Jerry etc.. True that past Enid Blytons are not captivating enough for these kiddos - Good / relevant post.

  15. try getting her "amelia jane" or "the magic faraway tree" series by enid blyton..she will surely love the pranks in the former and the icecream trees in the latter:)

  16. Roald Dahl is amazing. You can read his children's stories as a kid and love their charm and the characters. Grow up and reread those same stories you will find dimensions and humor that you missed when you were a kid.

    Very few authors/books/comics can appeal to both kids as well as grown-ups as Roald Dahl can. I believe RK Narayan and the creators of Asterix and Obelix also fall in the same class.

    How old is your daughter? I am guessing that she is pretty young, in which case I would say she has great choice and has truly achieved something. :-)

  17. I have not read any of roald dahl's work because i live in a very cutoff place.The only books i have read are the ones that are in the library of the club but there is onething for sure childrens literatures captivates readers of all ages.Maybe because we get to become the same old child that we were when we were around 8 or 9 years old,that same old innocence,adventures in fairy land adorable and not so adorable imaginary creatures,fighting of crimes coming back from unknown lands having faced great dangers.I still love reading enid blyton's books for this reason. How interesting it would be to climb a great tree which reaches up to those far away clouds and emerging out into a new land having fairies as friends oooh i just want to live my childhood a second time and these books lets me live them once again.When i got in 10th standard the previous year a new element was added to our dinner my parents would sit and talk with me and my sister abt my childhood days about all my innocent acts at that age i would like to put forward one here it was as follows "we were going to aur village in kerala so in train i made friend with some uncles,we talked for quite a while and then when i felt they had become intimate to me i approached them and showed them the underwear i was wearing and said 'uncle dekho mera naya chaddi' an innnocent comment by an innocent 6 years old child".Thats what these books make me the same 8 years old vinay

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