The most wonderful time of the year

It’s really special time of year in the literary world at the moment, as it just so happens that we celebrate two very inspirational authors within a couple days of each other. Today, September 13th, is Roald Dahl day; a day to re-read some of your favourite of his children’s stories and to branch out to his adult short story collections if you’re feeling brave! I’ve touched briefly on my love of Dahl in my post about Matilda, but there is much more to cover and I will back to it shortly.

In 2 days time, September 15th we also celebrate the Queen of Crime’s 125th birthday. Yes, it’s 125 years since Agatha Christie was born, and her novels remain, while slightly dated, as popular as ever. I have waxed lyrical countless times on my love of her novels, so I’ll keep this section brief. If you’ve visited my ramblings before you’ll remember me mentioning the Agatha Christie Society were running a poll to find the best Christie story ever, a poll that caused me much heart-ache and soul searching. And now, the results are in and I’m pleased to say that I am in the majority of the population by voting for that oft-parodied tale, And Then There Were None. I’m feeling very pleased by the result, and feel it’s fully earned. If you haven’t read this one yet, give it a go and we’ll have a chat about it in the comments.

Now back to Roald Dahl, whose day is being acknowledged all over the country with Wonka bars and fizzy lifting drinks aplenty (I can only hope). For me, as a former teacher, former child and literary enthusiast Roald Dahl’s works are just the quintessential children’s books. They are clever, they are funny, they are moral (in their own twisted way) and they make you want to read more!

The way Dahl uses words is just pure magic, and encourages such an imaginative use of language in anyone who reads them. The themes are not natural contenders for children’s stories, (child abuse and neglect in Matilda and James and the Giant Peach, elder abuse in George’s Marvellous Medicine etc., spousal abuse in The Twits - these are just generally books about various types of abuse!) but that’s what makes them so brilliant. Children can see straight away that they are not being talked down to, the darker side of life not being hidden away from them and they rise to the challenge. It’s always the adults that feel the most uncomfortable with such ideas, never the children. Dahl didn’t worry about scaring, or worrying or corrupting children, and rightly so! Dahl never seemed to lose his child-like magic and it comes through in his amazing writing.

As you know my career in teaching was basically a five year campaign to make children love reading whether they wanted to or not! For the majority of my time teaching I was lucky enough to teach the lower end of the age range that Roald Dahl targets with his works, so I snapped up the opportunity to be the person to introduce them to the books. One class I taught loved his books so much that I filled the usual dead time of the last two weeks of the year with Roald Dahl filled projects. We read his books, we wrote our own versions, we watched the movie adaptations from all ends of the quality spectrum (from the 1971 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to 2009’s Fantastic Mr Fox - you know which end is which!). We created Frobscottle with fruit juices and fizzy water, and made a cake fit for Bruce Bogtrotter himself to steal. The weeks flew by, and I can only hope nearly 4 years later, that experience and that love of Dahl has stayed with that cohort (although I’m painfully aware of how forgetful 7 year olds are!)

Of course it would do Dahl a disservice to only mention his children’s books, and forget his wonderful collection of adult short stories. Dahl applies the same warped humour and twisty plot devices to his grown-up works, so they feel familiar yet delightfully new and intriguing all at once. Someone Like You is definitely the most well-known collection but feel free to branch out with Switch Bitch, Kiss Kiss or My Uncle Oswald. I promise they won’t ruin your childhood memories of his more child-friendly works, only make you see Dahl as even more talented than you thought previously!

So here’s to two of the most talented authors ever. In their different ways they have defined their own genres, and are still adored by their many fans. Whether you spend the next few days with Marple or Matilda, just make sure to pay tribute to two unforgettable, inimitable artists, and make sure they continue to live on!

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