Wednesday, September 30, 2009

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Publisher: Original Publisher – Alfred A Knopf, Inc. 1961
Pages: 160
Reading Level: Ages 9 to 12

To celebrate Banned Book Week, I will be posting several blogs on some of the most challenged children’s books or children’s authors.

Over the years, Roald Dahl’s book, James and the Giant Peach has been banned and challenged because some believed that the book promoted drugs and disobedience and contained an improper racial reference, sexual references, and profanity. After reading the book, it appears that James & the Giant Peach may have been banned for exactly some of the very reasons that it is well loved. Where would most children’s stories be without elements of magic, adventure, greater than life characters, and a general sense of irreverence?

Though the book was written in 1961 and there are some figures of speech and other references that date the book slightly, the basic spirit of adventure and the main character as hero makes this story still treasured by young readers forty-eight years later. Somehow, despite all the reading I did as a kid, I managed to miss this book. I’m not sure how or why but I did. When I picked up the story, I was eager to find out what I had been missing all these years.

The story opens with a happy and well loved James who with his parents is visiting the zoo when a freak accident occurs and his parents are killed by a rhinoceros. This results in James being sent to live with two elderly aunts (Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker). James is treated poorly and unfairly by his aunts and after meeting an elderly man in the woods he is gifted with magical crystals. Before he is able to follow the elder’s advice, James drops the crystals which fall to the ground and are absorbed by the earth. Later, James discovers that the magical crystals did work causing the peach tree to produce an oversized peach and several enormous insects.

Upon meeting the insects, James is invited into the peach and with the help of the giant centipede the peach is freed from the tree and off he goes with his new friends on an adventure. From confused seagulls, to hungry sharks to revengeful Cloud Men, James and his friends are repeatedly bombarded and attacked. Yet, through it all, James proves himself to be a wise and level headed leader.

After reading James and the Giant Peach, I thought about what I knew of Dahl’s story and of children. Would I recommend the tale to children? Yes, beyond a doubt, I would recommend the book. Did I believe that the reasons the story had been banned would be evident to children readers? Not particularly. Can Dahl’s book motivate or interest a reluctant read? Yes. Once again, I feel like the benefits of this novel outweigh the negatives. Roald Dahl, thank you for a timeless story of friendship, and adventure.

Celebrate Banned Book Week, go read a banned or challenged book!

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