Tag Archives: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Re-Reading in the World: Harriet the Spy in EW

I considered re-reading Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy last month for the Re-Reading Project, but ran out of time (I ended up re-reading twice as many books in January as I’d originally planned). Reading through my Entertainment Weekly yesterday, as I religiously do, I saw a great book essay by Hillary Busis about Harriet the Spy (as well as Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) turning 50 this year.

Busis writes about how influential Harriet was for her, growing up 30 years after the book’s 1960s setting:

…I identified so fully with Harriet–her emotions, fear of change, frustration, and loneliness–that she instantly felt like an old friend. Inspired by her, I even started keeping a journal in which I carefully wrote mean things about my friends. During a fateful fifth-grade camping trip, that choice came back to bite me…hard. (P.S. Katy, Julia, Whitney, Kate–I’m still sorry.)

Despite that episode, Harriet wasn’t a bad influence. My bond with her was so strong precisely because her faults and virtues mirrored my own.

It occurs to me that troublesome female characters like Harriet (and Gilly Hopkins and Sammy Keyes) are especially important for young girls, who so often absorb society’s message that their job is to please others, which usually means not pleasing themselves. They’re not supposed to be nosy, or stubborn, or rambunctious, but they often are these things, or feel these things, and they need heroines who show them that it’s okay to be however they are, to ask questions and accept no one’s answers but the ones they find for themselves.

Have no fear, there will be a Re-Reading post for February–I’m working on it now. And I’ll have a guest post from my sister soon (together, she and I were little girls much like Harriet, Gilly and Sammy and we remain partners in crime today). If you’ve been enjoying theses posts, I hope you’ll consider re-reading an influential book and writing about it, like Maurice has done and Aimee is doing.

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The Re-Reading Project: 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.

Some parents go further. They become so blinded by adoration they manage to convince themselves their child has qualities of genius.

Well, there is nothing very wrong with all this. It’s the way of the world. It is only when the parents begin telling us about the brilliance of their own revolting offspring, that we start shouting, “Bring us a basin! We’re going to be sick!”

It didn’t have to be Matilda, you know. I think I was an adult before I finally read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (23 years old, in 2005), but I could’ve re-read Danny, the Champion of the World, instead. It’s funny that the two Roald Dahl books I know that I read as a child are Matilda and Danny, the Champion of the World, which have remained my favorite Roald Dahl books. They’re similar in a way, in that they feature a girl and a boy, respectively, who conquer bullying adults through their intelligence and imagination. Danny was published first, in 1975 and Matilda over a decade later, in 1988 (when I was 6 years old). The main difference would have to be that Matilda’s parents are not supportive at all and Danny and his father William are partners in their adventures.

I re-read Matilda, because I was most curious about how my memory of the book and my current reading of it would match up. I can see why this was a book that lived large in my imagination. The hero is a small, intelligent girl who reads as much as she can! She spends all of her time at the library and then in her room, reading books. That may well have been me. I read most of the books in my school library, on my teacher’s shelves and around the house. I started reading adult books very early (as you’ll start seeing soon when I re-read some of those). Matilda is misunderstood and underestimated by almost all of the adults around her, which most kids can identify with as well, even if the reality isn’t as extreme as in Matilda’s story.

matilda-roald-dahl-hardcover-cover-artQuentin Blake‘s illustrations really help the story to come alive, partly because they are imbedded into the text in many cases, working together with the story. Their genius is that they are so perfectly suited to children’s imaginations and also to Dahl’s wry and dark stories.

Except for reading (re-reading?) the two Charlie books in 2005, I haven’t read any of Dahl’s books since I started recording my reading at age 13. Yet, as an adult, I have been collecting copies of his kids’ books (which I didn’t own as a kid, apparently) and two story collections, Kiss Kiss and Over to You. I’ve become fascinated, as an adult, by Roald Dahl in general. He was a fighter pilot during WWII and his first published story was about his plane crashing during the war. He wrote scripts for Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and one Bond film, You Only Live Twice, as well as his own Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but they were all finished or re-written by others. His school days were hugely influential in his writing for children: most notably that Cadbury used to send tester candy to his school, leading to his love of chocolate and arguably his most famous story, as well as in the behavior of the adults around his child protagonists, which is often very brutal and ignorant-minded. Without coddling or being sentimental, Dahl stories regularly deal with the injustice and powerlessness that children feel, which may be one of the biggest reasons for their longevity.

In addition to Dahl’s books, his family is his lasting legacy. His daughter and two of his grandchildren write. His grandson Luke Kelly’s Blanket and Bear, a Remarkable Pair was published last year.

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