There are some authors you just know will be a good fit for your child… or not. As one of the world’s foremost writers of children’s stories, Roald Dahl is one such author. Dahl’s propensity to create worlds in which parents can be wicked, children can be orphaned or even killed, is not necessarily material meant for every child. But if your kid, like mine, is into that kind of thing, Dahl’s collection of fantastical settings and unbelievable characters is a veritable literary treasure trove.
Of the Dahl books we’ve read, my son’s favorite by far has been The BFG. Set first in London, then a previously unknown land called Giant Country, The BFG takes the reader on a whirlwind adventure through the eyes of Sophie, an orphan living in a home for girls, and the 25 foot giant who kidnaps her from her bed one night, the BFG – or the Big Friendly Giant.
The action starts fast, with Sophie first spying the BFG from her window one evening far past midnight. The giant has incredible hearing, thanks to his dinner plate-sized ears and in short time he whisks Sophie from her bed, through the window and straight into his coat pocket. He runs for hours with Sophie tucked away and she is sure that they must be crossing entire continents and oceans. When the giant finally slows his pace, she finds that they have arrived in a massive cave where the BFG lives alone.
At first, it’s difficult to know whether the giant intends to eat Sophie. Honestly, he’s a bit coy on the whole matter and it’s not outside the realm of possibility in Dahl’s writing that she could be gobbled right on the spot. But eventually, we learn that the BFG is indeed harmless and only kidnapped Sophie because she had spotted him. He couldn’t leave any witnesses, after all. He then unceremoniously informs Sophie that she must live with him forever in his cave.
Unhappy with this declaration, Sophie begins scheming for ways in which she can get the BFG to agree to release her. It is during this discussion in which you learn that there are several other giants who are not nearly as kind and gentle as he is. With names like The Bloodbottler and Child Chewer, it’s safe to say that these are ones to be avoided. The BFG fills her in on the fact that all giants, aside from himself, are sustained by eating people. Every single night, they venture out all over the world to feast on the innocent, no matter their age. Children are certainly not off limits to this gruesome lot, as we learn when boys and girls from two boarding schools are gobbled up one night.
Refusing to resign herself to living in a cave in Giant Country for the rest of her days and unwilling to sit idly by while unsuspecting people are eaten every night, Sophie hatches a plan. I won’t ruin the surprise of how Sophie escapes the cave and goes on to live a life of love and happiness beyond her wildest dreams. I will say that it involves a death defying escape from a gang of giants, a potion concocted to induce a terrifying nightmare in Queen Elizabeth, a breakfast fit for a giant at Buckingham Palace, culminating in a daring attempt by the British Army and Air Force to capture the giants and rid the world of their horrifying reign!
This work of fiction clocks in at 195 pages and features black and white sketches throughout that help to envision the world of Sophie and the BFG. Kids will love the way the BFG speaks, as he often uses words that he’s misunderstood from others or that he’s completely made up, such as disgusterous, crockadowndillies and whoppsy-whiffling. Boys will especially love the chapter about a beverage named frobscottle and how it induces whizzpoppers in those who ingest it.
I suggest that you adopt your own version of what the BFG speaks like and give yourself over to the silliness of the story. The world of Roald Dahl’s writing may worry parents who are unsure as to whether it will frighten their children but in my experience, the sheer absurdity of the stories and characters negates this concern. If you’d rather ease your child into Dahl, perhaps try The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me. You might want to wait to introduce The Witches. Happy reading!