Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Nook - Matilda

Matilda, written by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake:

I can't believe I've never read Matilda, one of Roald Dahl's best known novels until recently.  Actually, I take that back: about a year ago, I tried reading it to the Bachsters, but they didn't have much interest in it.  I'm glad I tried it again with them - we all really enjoyed it.

This is Roald Dahl at his best: a very sweet protagonist with altruistic intentions, a bad guy that is beyond bad, all mixed with Dahl's humor and wit and Quentin Blake's whimsical illustrations.

Matilda is a very smart little girl.  She loves reading books far beyond her age-range, she can do complex math problems in her head and can compose a limerick for her teacher while her teacher is talking to her in class.  For some reason, her parents do not see her brilliance, and go about insulting her and making her eat her supper in front of the telly.  Even when Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey, makes a special trip to their home to tell them how extraordinary their daughter is, they do not believe her.  But despite having such schmucks as parents, Matilda carries on with optimism (after playing a few tricks on her father).

The real bad guy in the book is not played by Matilda's parents, however: that role goes to the Trunchbull, headmistress at Matilda's school.  She does some very horrible things to various children (like swinging one little girl around by her braids), but when Matilda learns of some horrible things the Trunchbull did to Miss Honey, Matilda comes up with a plan to teach the headmistress a lesson or two.

Roald Dahl's works are controversial in children's literature, and you can see why in Matilda.  Some of the things characters do or say are mean-spirited, but some of them are downright abusive, like the braid-swinging, or the awful things the Trunchbull did to Miss Honey.  My Bachsters can handle it, but for younger or sensitive children, you might want to wait until they are a little older.  There are certainly some opportunities for parents to have good conversations with their kids about some of the heavier actions in the story.

That being said, there are some really great things I liked about this book.  The biggest is Matilda: she's a great character.  She's brilliant, inquisitive, patient, tolerant....and perhaps just a little scheming.  I love that kids can look up to her because she's smart.....I think we need to see more role models like that.  She and Miss Honey have a close friendship that's also nice to see.  Being a bit of a bookworm myself, I also love that Matilda is an avid reader, and I loved hearing her thoughts on some of the books she has read (she says of C.S. Lewis that there's no humor in his books.  Books should have some funny parts).  And I love Roald Dahl's style, as always.  Here, I thought it was so funny that he always refers to Matilda's father as "the father" or her mother as "the mother."  Of course, Miss Trunchbull is "the Trunchbull."  Such a tiny descriptive, but gives the reader a real sense of these adults' relationship with Matilda.

Dahl wraps everything up nice and neat at the end, and we can all cheer for Matilda and her happy ending.  Matilda is another example why children - and adults - love Roald Dahl's books.


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