Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Classic Children's/YA: Tom Nicoll on James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

My semi-regular classic children's feature has become a lot less regular recently, so I was delighted to get Tom Nicoll on board to talk about Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, and the unusual friendships James forms. I'm really excited to read Tom's There's A Dragon In My... series, published by Stripes - especially as they're illustrated by Sarah Horne, who's a favourite of mine! 

James and the Giant Peach

Number of books: Standalone

Availability: Widely available in pretty much every format going apart from possibly cave paintings.

The Premise: James Henry Trotter loses his parents to a tragic rhinoceros accident and then has to live with his two horrible aunts. Lonely and abused, as kids often seem to be in Roald Dahl stories, he then meets an old man who gives him a bag of crystals. James accidentally drops the crystals on his aunts’ peach tree which causes the tree to spout a giant peach. Inside said peach, James meets a bunch of human-sized insects. One thing leads to another and they all end up crossing the Atlantic on the peach. As you do.

Why I Really Like It:  I devoured Roald Dahl books growing up. Terry Wogan used to say that he performed his radio shows to an audience of one and reading Dahl always felt similar, as if the books were written just for me. Now, I’ve since checked and it turns out Roald Dahl books are quite popular so he probably didn’t write them just for me. James and the Giant Peach was a particular favourite, and was written a full twenty-two years before I was even born, lending further evidence to the idea that it’s not all about me. I’ve always loved stories about unusual friendships. They’re a common theme in Roald Dahl stories but what I think I admire the most about them is the imaginative approaches Dahl takes to resolving the issue of his character’s loneliness. In James, you have a young orphan with no friends in the world. What’s the solution? That’s right: befriend some overgrown insects and emigrate to America on a huge piece of fruit. Of course that’s what you would do! Duh! I also love the fact that within the first few chapters you have parental deaths, child abuse and dodgy men in bushes giving kids bags of strange chemicals. Roald Dahl books are basically the intersection of a Venn diagram between Funny Children’s books and Misery Memoirs.

Who It Will Appeal To: We read this to my daughter when she was four and she seemed to enjoy it, though I think six and up is probably about right to get most of the jokes and general silliness contained within. And if Donald Trump becomes President and builds his huge wall, then you may want to read this book if you’re looking for alternative US migration strategies. Also, if both of your parents happened to have been eaten by an escaped rhinoceros then this book may be especially poignant to you.

Others By The Same Author: Matilda, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, The BFG, The Twits, The Witches and lots more.

Tom Nicoll is the author of There’s a Dragon in My Dinner!, illustrated by Sarah Horne and There’s a Dragon in My Backpack! out this week. Look out for There’s a Dragon in My Toilet! coming later this year!  

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