2016: 85. - 91. Reading Books Aloud (a.k.a. so much Dahl)

After our great success with The BFG, we’ve been on a Dahl tear and our summer has been full of Wonkas and frobsctottle, terrible mean people, and the wonderful small people (or monkeys) who give them their comeuppance.

85. The Fantastic Mr. Fox

We decided to read a shorter Dahl after The BFG (I should say here that my mom gave us the box set that had almost everything he wrote for kids. I definitely recommend the set if you don’t already have a plurality of the books), primarily because son #2 (who is only five) got a little bored with the big long book, even with the promise of going to see the movie looming ahead (they did see the movie, they loved it, so boo on you snooty critics).

Anyway, The Fantastic Mr. Fox is the tale of a fox and his family, who live (as all foxes do) by poaching food from the farms of three dreadful human beings - Mr. Bean, Mr. Bunce and Mr. Boggis.  After they shoot off his tale, and decide to get him no matter the cost (we are talking taking a bulldozer to scoop out the hill Mr. Fox lives in), the Foxes are starving to death — until Mr. Fox, who is quite fantastic, gets a fantastic idea.

My kids loved it.  It’s super short (we read in in 2-3 days), and it’s funny, and the Quentin Blake illustrations (different from the ones I had growing up) are delightful as always.  It’s funny that we all root for the robber fox, right from the beginning, but what the heck.  And, there is a deee-light-ful film version by Wes Anderson, which I also highly recommend.

86. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

We decided that a good way to help son #2 deal with longer books was to try one where he was familiar with the plot.  My kids adore the film version (Gene Wilder only - we saw the Johnny Depp one in a hotel once and they decided it was “creepy” and “wrong”), and it totally worked - it was easier for my small son to stay engaged knowing what was going to happen. Since then we’ve read a few longer books and he’s totally in.

Obviously you know this one - the original movie is pretty close to the plot (though here Veruca Salt is brought down by squirrels, not a golden goose), and Mr. Willy Wonka is as strange and delightful.  It doesn’t have the part where Grandpa Joe and Charlie get into trouble, which is the part I always hated as a Type-A kid, so I would say that the book wins, particularly if you can imagine Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka when you read.  And although Grandpa Joe is one of history’s greatest monsters (if he can leap up once a Golden Ticket was found, why was he lying in bed instead of contributing to the family??), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is great fun to read to your kids.

87. George’s Marvelous Medicine

Perhaps this was not the wisest choice, given that son 2 is already prone to potion making. In fact, every night I felt obliged to remind my boys that what George does in the book is INCREDIBLY dangerous and we should never drink things unless we know what they are.

That having been said, the kids loved this one.  It’s so silly - George has a mean and tyrannical old grandmother, and one day he has had enough.  So he makes a potion consisting of everything liquid in the house and barn and serves it to her in the guise of her daily medicine.  Rather than killing her (cause this is a kids book), it causes her to grow a million feet - his dad, a farmer, sees the potential in the medicine (a chicken laps some up and grows to the size of a small car), and wants George to make more so they can be rich.  Silliness ensues.  The book is super short, which is a nice change of pace and it’s very Dahl-y.  Fun.

88. The Magic Finger

Another shortie, The Magic Finger is about a girl who, when she gets really angry, unleashes the magic from her magic finger (no explanation, just roll with it).  This time she gets really angry at her neighbors, who are always hunting and shooting animals.  She sees red, and then chaos ensues.  A very good read for the environmentalist/animal lover/ anti-gun kids you may have (mine happen to be all three - please do not teach them about vegetarianism).

89. The Twits

What a lot of hairy-faced men there around these days.”

Another shortie, following the general Dahl plotline - horrible beastly person gets his commeuppance from younger, good, and spunky young person (or in this case, monkey and bird).  The Twits are the nastiest couple around. In the first part of the book we watch them play horrible and nasty tricks upon each other (which is pretty amusing), and in the second part we see them defeated by the pet monkeys they have been tormenting - along with the local birds they have been killing and eating.  Fun for kids to read about such rotters of adults, and the plot to get rid of them is pretty clever too.

Plus, there is a passage among all the mayhem that I think is quite lovely, and I shall quote.  Talking about why Mrs. Twit is so ugly and horrible:

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly.  You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.”  Pg. 7 of the Penguin illustrated edition.

I like that thought.  

90. Matilda

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers.  Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

Oh, I saved the best for last.  We looooved Matilda.  Once we got over the notion that there could be parents who didn’t love their children (and isn’t it sweet that my boys could barely contemplate such a thing), we were all in.  We rooted for her when she was outsmarting her rotten folks, but by the time she took on the horrible bullying headmaster Miss Trunchbull we stood up and cheered.  Great, great fun.  And then we watched the charming movie which was fun too.

91. Tales of Beedle the Bard, J.K. Rowling

And, finally a change of pace! Due to complicated circumstances, I was home for a week with Son #1, while Son #2 was away in Maine.  We needed to find something else to read until he came back.  Since Son #1 is a Harry Potter maniac (currently in the middle of Goblet of Fire), I thought these would be fun.  He loved them, of course, though he was more interested in the fairy tales, and I was more interested in the Dumbledore commentary that follows each tale.  But since we read it aloud, I’ve seen him twice reading it to himself, so I have to consider it a hit.

PHEW.  The worst thing is, I stil have at least eight books in my backlog.  Maybe next vacation I should bring the lap top!!

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017