The book I have decided to start off the blog with is a classic, but when I look back to my childhood it is the definitive book that stands out time and time again. After all, if ever there was a champion for any child who loves to read, it is Roald Dahl’s Matilda.
It is always difficult to pin down exactly what it is about a book that you love, when the book is so deeply ingrained in your childhood. I remember reading Matilda again and again almost obsessively, never tiring of the characters and the story. It is hard as an adult to try and break down and explain the magical experiences of childhood.
But here it goes… first and foremost, I love the intelligence and wit of Matilda, combined with her child’s need for love and affection. Watching her take on the adults in her life and win is hilarious, but the way in which she discovers a new maternal figure in Miss Honey, is also deeply moving. It is essentially the narrative of two lonely outsiders who find each other, and reminds us that for all the grotesque characters and events, it is a story about love.
On the other hand, the villains of the story are truly spectacular, most notably of course the incomparable Miss Trunchbull. I often used the extract where Dahl introduces Miss Trunchbull when I was teaching students about descriptive writing, as it is a masterclass in characterisation. Dahl makes her actions so extreme that rather than being frightened of her, we find her humorous. After all, the idea of throwing a child out the window by the pigtails is so ridiculous and removed from reality, it definitely becomes funny rather than disturbing. Likewise the episode where she forces Bruce Bogtrotter to eat the whole chocolate cake as a punishment. The genius of the punishment makes us laugh, although admittedly if anything were to ever put me off chocolate cake, that just might!
Overall, the message of the book is one that any parent can happily pass on to their child. The TV watching habits of the Wormwood family have produced horrible, vacuous individuals who cheat their way through life. Matilda’s love of reading on the other hand, gives her a friend for life, and the wit and insight to take down the bullying adults in her life. She has “a view of life that they had never seen”, and she turns this to her advantage. The book is a homage to the act of reading, and therefore definitely deserves a place on this list.