Monday, 15 September 2014

Celebrating Roald Dahl Day!

Saturday was Roald Dahl Day. In a guest blog from the Department of Education, Dr Victoria Elliott discusses the author's impact - personal and professional.

It won’t be a huge surprise to anyone that as an English in Education lecturer, Matilda is my favourite Roald Dahl book. In fact when Matilda came out in 1988 I was offered a choice of birthday present (I was 8). I could either have Matilda as a hardback (now!) or I could have some new clothes (which I really needed) and Matilda when it came out in paperback. I still have the hardback.

A few personal copies
Matilda is a tribute to the power of reading in people’s lives, and particularly their education. Through reading, we step into other people's shoes and live lives we could never dream of. We can learn to empathise with others, and we can gather the 'cultural literacy' to interact with our society and heritage. Reading for pleasure is immensely important for young people’s educational success.

For an English educationalist Matilda is a particularly powerful fable. A small girl escapes from her dreadful, anti-education family at first metaphorically through reading and then literally, as she uses her brain power to defeat the awful Miss Trunchbull and rescue her favourite teacher Miss Honey.  Education saves lives.  And of course, it's every English teacher's dream to find an under-ten reading their way voluntarily through Dickens's works. (Matilda would have no problem with the new requirements for a 19th century novel at GCSE.)

Roald Dahl from US Library of Congress' Prints and Photographs division.
Digital ID van.5a51872.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Roald Dahl is quite extraordinary as a children’s author. He's widely read and celebrated and continues to be so after his death. Matilda has of course become one of the most successful modern musicals. Every September Roald Dahl Day is celebrated on his birthday, the 13th (the day after mine as it turns out. Coincidences abound!). Children from all over the world can visit the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, in his old home in Buckinghamshire. The official website also has a great selection of online teaching resources, FYI trainee teachers!

Perhaps this Roald Dahl Day you might stop by the JB Morrell library and visit the Peggy Janiurek collection to borrow one of his books. If books about brainy kids aren't your thing, I recommend The Witches too. Or James and the Giant Peach. Or Fantastic Mr Fox. Or, for a surprisingly feminist retelling of fairy tales you might more expect to find by Angela Carter: Revolting Rhymes. After all, every Red Riding Hood should keep a pistol in her knickers to defeat the Big Bad Wolf. Although if Matilda had worn the red cloak, she might have come up with a more cunning weapon than that…

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