I was going to review The Book Thief and it’s still on my list but reading is slow at the moment. So I have decided to review some short books instead. One of them is Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach.
As you know, I plan to do the popsugar reading challenge, so James and the Giant Peach fits into the prompt that says ‘read a book with a food item in the title’. This one was one of the first books that came to mind for that prompt and so here is the book review for it.
The film adaption was one of my favourites when I was a child, although I didn’t put it on repeat as often as I did with my other favourite films so it is definitely a book I feel I should read.
The story is not unusual for Roald Dahl, just like Matilda and Sophie from TheBFG, James is a lonely boy abused and neglected by his two aunts. He is given some magical crystals that he is told not to use. These crystals make a peach and a handful of insects several feet tall.
It is a book aimed at young readers but is enjoyable for all ages. It has vivid descriptions that create visual and auditory imagery. An example of this is his description of Aunt Sponge.
Aunt Sponge was enormously fat and very short. She had small piggy eyes, a sunken mouth and one of those white flabby faces that looked exactly as though it had been boiled. She was like a great white soggy overboiled cabbage.
I can imagine Aunt Sponge’s appearance – a stout character who always looks angry, had a whiny voice and sweats – a lot. This sort of description is not just good for children’s imagination but is good writing for any book. For children, it is important for vocabulary and to encourage imagination.
While aimed at children, this book does have a dark side. James is an orphan after his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros, he is beaten and abused by his aunts and trapped in a giant peach with a handful of insects and is unable to safely escape. Essentially, James is in a nightmare scenario – at least he doesn’t fear the insects and an arachnid, but I know if I was in that situation, I’d want to get out the peach and away from the insects as quickly as possible.
However, I’d imagine he was glad to get away from his Aunts’ house. James had lived with his Aunts since he was four years old, but the women never called him by his name, taking away part of his identity and making him feel even more alone since his parents’ Death. This already makes James escape from his aunts a happy situation for children. The children would be glad that James can no longer be harmed by his Aunts and excited that he is escaping them inside a peach. However, some children might not be keen to the idea of sharing the peach with insects.
So how did Roald Dahl make his young readers feel that being in a giant peach with insects more appealing?
He gives the insects human traits. You have the Ladybird who is bashful and modest, the shoe-obsessed Centiped, the deaf Gloworm and the grumpy Earthworm, the Grasshopper and the Wise spider. These traits help James to accept the insects as individuals and not things to be terrified of. It could be a good read for a child who has started to fear insects.
“Poor Earthworm,’ the Ladybird said, whispering in James’s ear. ‘He loves to make everything into a disaster. He hates to be happy. He is only happy when he is gloomy.”
Dahl also creates empathy for the insects. At one point, Miss Spider tells James about her father’s death at the hand of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spike. Painting the Aunt’s as the antagonist and Miss Spider as the victim. The insects become James friends and so the children are more likely to love them than be horrified by them. James ability to accept the insects’ differences may also encourage children to not only see insects differently but to accept children who are different to them as well.
Together, they travel in the peach and come across issues. They begin to worry about food, sharks and cloud but as a team and with James clever ideas, they manage to resolve all of their issues.
The book and the descriptions are really well written and vivid, making the book an easy read for its target audience. The characters are relatable and lovable, despite being insects.
I feel this book is ideal for young children – the dark tones of the story such as the death of James’s parents are not described in detail but I feel that children shouldn’t be shied away from issues such as grief, abuse and differences and the book covers these issues in a manner that makes it easy for them to understand and as the protagonist solves the issue, the child would feel secure again knowing that everything turned out well in the end.