Friday, April 18, 2014

A Plethora of Roald Dahl During Spring Break


A few years ago, while lost in the bookshelves of Half-Priced Books, I stumbled onto the Ds of the children's section. There, before me, were numerous Roald Dahl books for less than $3.

I stretched out my arm and swept those books off the shelf, into my basket, brought them home and placed them on my shelf.

And then, there they sat, unread. For years.

You see, lately, I've become a bit persnickety in my reading. There are so many titles out there, that instead of slowly, but surely, reading through them, I shut down and read nothing. A writer's most important job is to also read, unless you're overwhelmed by all the kinds of books out there. Then, the writer's job is to shut down.

Luckily, this past Spring Break, I was able to break through my fussiness, throw caution to the wind, and read seven books.

Four of those books that helped kick me in the arse were from a beloved children's author that I feel is completely acceptable to read, even without kids around the house. Normally, I would sit down and write separate reviews, but, you see, I read all four books during two visits to the beach, so I must combine them all into one review.

Roald Dahl, although no longer with us, is much like Stephen King to me. He can do no wrong. Regardless of what it is he has written, I will enjoy it. His stories are so quirky. He makes up words -- that or they're completely British. He finds a way to use magic. He has an illustrator who has, probably, illustrated all of his books -- I like that kind of collaboration, much like Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin or Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice.

And they're all British!

The Giraffe, The Pelly, and Me

When animals talk, move over! This book moves like a bullet train of nonstop deus ex machina! What? The animals need a job? What? They're hired by a rich Duke? There's a robbery?

You, stop, Dahl!

These three -- the "me" is a monkey -- wash windows. They sing. They refurbish an old building. A little boy gets caught up in the shenanigans, but these creatures are so selfless, that you wish you really did know them. Throughout the 14-point font book, with great illustrations by Quentin Blake. Out of the three animals, I wanted to know the Giraffe the most -- the Pelican (Pelly) was a bit too boastful for my taste. The monkey was pretty sassy with his ability to shake his money-maker, and that, in and of itself, is pretty awesome.

Regardless, this could become a stop-action movie (or short) with the character-styles of Tim Burton -- who is obviously a fan, since he's made "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach" into movies.

The Magic Finger

This 60-page book was probably my least favorite, and here's why: Quentin's drawing of the little girl in the book. Her bangs are bad and spiky, and they look like the girl cut her own. I know this is a normal occurrence at that age, but when you have a magic finger...I expect better.

It's a bit reminiscent of "Matlida" with all that mad-little-girl magic. A girl gets mad, points her finger, and crazy things happen. In this case, it's a family of hunters. After shooting down many ducks, the little girl gets so angry that she points her finger. Once that happens, the family switch places with the ducks, and they get to see what it's like to be hunted.

I'm sure if we all read the book and sat down with it during book club, we would really be able to dig into the deeper themes here, like gun control, animal husbandry, and the effects of bad hair on little girls.

Esio Trot
This is a sweet love story between an older man and a middle-aged woman that lives below him. Nicholas Spark's "The Notebook" can't even. I think this one is my favorite out of the three short books. An adult could read this to their child and be captivated by it. Much like the first 10 minutes of Disney/Pixar's "Up," it holds all the fun that a child will grasp onto, while allowing the adult to understand the deeper heartache that is there.

The woman on the floor below is in love with her little turtle. She just wishes he would grow. Well, the older man above her knows a way to make that happen. And it works. And they both fall in love.

I shall not give away the details. All I have to say is: If you have kids, you better read this one to them.

The Witches
I saw this movie, with Anjelica Houston, in the theater way back in 1990 when I was nine-years-old. Jim Henson's studio was in charge of the crazy, and I adored it. I'm not sure if I even knew who Roald Dahl was, but 23 years later, I finally picked up the book that inspired it all.

It seems witches are all around, and they despise children. They smell, like "dog's droppings" to them, and it is the witch's job to off all the children everywhere.

Well, our main character finds himself in the middle of an annual meeting of all the witches in England, and there with them all is the storied Grand High Witch. She's a vulture in disguise.

No, really. She's a hideous monster that has to hide her ugliness with a face mask, a wig and gloves. Her feet have no toes -- well, all the witches' feet have no toes -- and she can look at a fellow witch in the eye and frizzle her to a fried fritter.

The poor boy is turned into a mouse, but with the help of his grandmother, they create a plan that challenges the future of all these witches -- at least, in the U.K.