Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Top Five Roald Dahl Novels, by Matthew MacNish

The wagon outside the cottage where he wrote Danny, the Champion of the World

Today I would like to celebrate the world's greatest children's author (note: this is my personal opinion, and is not meant to disparage Judy Blume, who is obviously amazing, but did not much appeal to me as a boy, because her books were for girls, ew).

Roald Dahl is perhaps the most well known author of middle grade titles in the world. Or at least he was before there was such a thing as middle grade and young adult, and books were either children's books or something else. I don't say this to take anything away from any other authors, and I'm sure my love for his books is influenced by the fact that I was born at the height of his success, but even if you don't consider him the best EVAH, surely you have enjoyed at least one of his tales (and if not, you might want to get on that, like STAT).

Anyway, regardless of where he ranks on the Matthew-MacNish-greatest-children's-authors-in-history-scaleTM, today I would like to share with you my top five favorite Roald Dahl novels, in order, from nearly favorite to very favorite!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Such a wonderful, magical book. From Willy Wonka to the Oompa Loompas, to the eponymous chocolate factory, there is so much imagination in this book. I love it with all my heart. However, while I'm well aware that many people might list this as their favorite Dahl novel, for me it is only my nearly-favorite. Only because there are so many other wonderful ones! Like: 

The BFG


As an adult with the humor bone of a twelve-year-old boy, I can never help but think of the title of this book standing for something very silly. However, while this book is full of fun and silliness, it's actually quite adorable. It also doesn't hurt that it is actually an expansion of a part of my very favorite Dahl book, shown below.

Matilda


Oh Matilda, you precocious little genius you! Matilda is probably my favorite Dahl protagonist. The ways in which she stands up to her situation are so adorable, but also so inspiring. I mean it's all fantasy, of course, but it's also so real. This book also gets a bonus for having one of the best two movie adaptations of a Dahl book (see the next entry for the other one).

James and the Giant Peach


Other than Gremlins, this is Roald Dahl's first book. It's a story about a small boy who escapes his cruel aunts inside a giant peach filled with giant insects (it's not that simple, obviously, but we're in a hurry here) and then sails it across the Atlantic, by luring a flock of seagulls into towing it. I mean, it all makes perfect sense, right? As wild and ridiculous as it sounds, this is one of the greatest children's stories ever written, and it also has a most excellent film adaptation.

Danny, the Champion of the World


I don't know if I can put my finger on exactly what it is about this book. Perhaps it was the fact that I was about Danny's age when I read it. Perhaps it was the fact that I lost my mother not long after. Perhaps it was the fact that fathers and sons are ... well, fathers and sons. I don't know exactly, but this is my all time favorite Roald Dahl novel, and it's a somewhat less well known one than most, so if you have not read it, I highly recommend you remedy that.

Roald Dahl in 1954

38 comments:

  1. Best books EVER. Loved them all. The three I read multiple times were The BFG, Maltilda, and The Witches. Ah, the memories ...

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    1. The Witches is so excellent. It almost made this list.

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  2. Danny touched me too...not sure why, either. A story that has always stuck with me.

    As a *girl* I was also a big Roald Dahl fan. So much so, that I've chosen his books to read-aloud and record for my soon-to-be-born nephew who lives far away. I'll be recording one a year, and am starting with James and the Giant Peach. I'm excited, because that means I get to read these stories again!

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    1. You, my dear Ronnica, are an awesome aunt! What an excellent gift that will be.

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  3. He wrote some unique stories. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was the one I really liked.

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    1. It's an awesome book, to be sure.

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  4. Roald Dahl is the person who pushed me to stop thinking about writing and finally try it. In 1998, I showed my students a video where he talked about his writing, which he devoted two hours to everyday. That sounded reasonable and not so huge and scary. I started that summer, two hours a day, and have never looked back!

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    1. That is an awesome origin story, Caroline! Thanks for sharing.

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  5. What a magical guy, and all the more remarkable to have kept that childlike sense of wonder through the war.

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    1. I would have loved to spent a day inside his head.

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  6. Roald Dahl is still wildly popular with the kids of today, Matt. For the past two years I've led a Dahl "station" at my kids' school book celebration--called "Bookbaggers"--and the kids have loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG. However, I've yet to read Danny, Champion of the World and now I feel I must remedy that stat.

    Thanks for featuring one of my all-time favorite authors, I think tons of children's writers--heck, all writers--were influenced to start writing by Mr. Dahl.

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    1. He is certainly amazing. And yes! You must read Danny, very soon. It's a little quieter and deeper than some of his others, but it's an incredibly touching book.

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  7. Some very good choices. Matilda was always one of my favorite.

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  8. DANNY was my absolute favourite as a kid, probably partly because I was a daddy's girl. It stands out to me as one of very few children's books where a parent has a wonderful starring role, and also because although it was realistic, it was still magical in a way.

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly. There was something so absolutely wondrous about Danny's dad.

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  9. James, Mathilda, and Charlie I've seen as movies but never read any of the books. probably should start. You made a great list Matt and your #1 had such a touching reason.

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  10. They're all great in their own way. Thanks, Sheena-kay!

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  11. At this point, I have not read a Dahl novel that I've liked.

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    1. We can always count on you to be contrarian, Andre. :P

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    2. Or AndreW, WTH, keyboard?

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  12. What, no Witches?
    Matilda would have been #1 for me. Love that book. I get to reread that one, or The BFG for my MFA. It's rough. ;)

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    1. The Witches is my number 6! Sorry. I probably should have done just the top 6. Or 7, so I could have had Mr. Fox too. I've actually never read Gremlins, now that I think of it. I should totally do that.

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  13. Matthew, I am in the midst of finishing my critical thesis for the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program (writing for children and young adults) and guess who it's on? ROALD DAHL! Specifically how he "utilized quirky, grotesque, and macabre concepts as agents of defamiliarization in order to better help young readers identify with his outsider protagonists." Making the normal strange in order to exaggerate situations and draw focus to those areas his readers would connect to. I just reread ALL those titles (among others) and I am still walking around in "Dahl awe!" Thanks for this post....Dahl should be mandatory reading. ;]

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    1. Joseph, that is ... SO awesome. I'm very jealous over here (plus I really miss Burlington. Ali Baba's Kabab Shop and Nectar's in particular -- I don't know if Vermont College is there, I only spent a short time in Vermont).

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    2. It's not far...right smack in the middle of Montpelier. Then again, basically everything is right smack in the middle of Montpelier. VT is a little slice of awesomeness wrapped in a crunchy coating of cool.

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    3. Gotcha. That whole state is so beautiful, but I only got to spend like six months there. And now that you're a member of the ole blog here, you should try to make NESCBWI next year. I'm going to try to go, and I'd gladly buy you a beer. Or a Kabob.

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    4. Unfortunately I don't live there...I just go up for about 11 days in July and January for residency at VCFA. I am, however, in LOVE with the state and trying to move there...Regardless, New England is a short drive from NJ (don't judge me! haha) and NESCBWI would not be out of the question. Beer and/or Kabobs sounds delicious. Ok, now I'll stop hijacking your post. ;]

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  14. Awesome choices, Matt! MATILDA is my all-time favorite Roald Dahl book, but there's a special place in my heart for Charlie, the BFG, and James. Now I want to reread them all!

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    1. You could throw all his books in the air, and whichever one you caught would be an excellent read. But yeah, I hear you. Thanks, Katy!

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  15. Yes yes yes!!! I LOVE Roald Dahl! My brother owned all of his books (he shared of course!) and I kept them safe on my bookshelves when he went off to college and, errr, didn't return them. I finally got all my own copies two years ago and gave his back so he could read them with his son! I know, I know, best sister and aunt ever. ;)

    My favorites are James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, Matilda, The Witches, Danny the Champion of the World, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Twits. But I love all of his books!! What a scrumdiddlyumptious imagination.

    I really like his short stories for adults, too. Have you read them? I have the complete collection. They are crazy awesome, as only Roald Dahl can do!

    Happy reading and writing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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  16. Laura, I know you well from the blogoshpere, but I HATE to admit I've never read Dahl's adult books, or his horror short stories, or his essays. I'm ashamed of these things, sure, and intend to amend them soon, but I don't know HOW soon. I promise it will be before I die, m'kay?

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  17. Amazing writer.
    I kid you not, my 3rd grade son today came home talking about how much he loves Roald Dahl's books and his favorite is the BFG.

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    1. The Bigalicious Fracktackistackally (awesome) Giant! Yo!

      You have a pretty cool kid, Kelly. For serious.

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  18. LOVE ME some RD! Where would any of us be without Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Good memories. I love books that I read as a kid, and then I got to read them again with my kids. <3

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  19. Love RD! His imagination was prodigious and insane and crazy and wonderful and humorous and delightful and... do I need to go on? :)

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    1. Nope! I feel the same. Thanks, Bish.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!