by Roald Dahl
First sentence: “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers.”
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Content: It’s a bit longer than Charlie, and a bit more complex. But, that said, I’d give it to a confident 8-year-old reader. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.
So, I’ve read this one before, but it’s been years and years and years and even though I’ve watched the movie a bunch (it’s one of my girls’ favorites), I wasn’t quite prepared for how DARK Matilda is.
I mean, all the usual Dahl themes are there: a powerless, nice child (not poor, though that comes with Ms. Honey) is bullied (by her parents and other adults) and discovers something grand within herself in order to overcome. But, the adults are beyond awful. They’re abusive. The Wormwoods (who are hilarious in the film) are corrupt and neglectful. But, it was Miss Trunchbull, who I always condered just an annoyance, who really got me this time. She’s not annoying: she’s an abuser. And perhaps it’s where I am in my life, but that didn’t sit well with me. I’m not entirely sure why; Matilda and Ms. Honey have a happy ending, after all, and Miss Trunchbull (not to mention Mr. Wormwood) get their comeuppance. But, it kind of rang hollow for me.
That said, it’s also not as funny (or at least clever) as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was sweet — both Matilda and Ms. Honey are sweet characters amid all the lame, awful people — but it wasn’t clever. (Dark undertones!) I did enjoy it, but I’m not sure it’s my favorite. (Then again, I still have four more books to read this summer.)
The book group discussion, however, was fantastic! I had 20 kids ranging in age from 5 to 12, and they all had amazing things to say. One boy said he had read it eight times, and had some smart thoughts on it. As did many others. We talked about favorite characters and whether the Wormwoods were funny (yes) and whether Mr. Wormwood deserved the pranks (yes!). Ms. Trunchbull was deemed to be too mean to be funny, though one girl insisted that her parents would have believed her if she had told them what Ms. Trunchbull was doing. We talked a lot about the chocolate cake, and many pointed out that an 18-inch cake really isn’t that big. One girl said it was “just right”. And my favorite comments were when we were talking how Dahl makes ugly=mean and beautiful=good. One girl pointed out that ugly people can’t help being ugly and that they could be nice and beautiful people can be mean. And another girl said that maybe Dahl was just trying to make the character’s inward ugliness show outward. Both excellent.
So, maybe not my favorite, but it was a great discussion.