Roald Dahl Facts for Kids
Roald Dahl Day is September 13th! Read this blog and learn loads of facts about this famous author.
Who was Roald Dahl?
Roald Dahl is one of the most famous authors in the world. His children’s books have been translated into almost 60 different languages, and sold over 250 million copies worldwide.
Roald Dahl in 1954
Roald Dahl was born on September 13th 1916, in Llandaff, South Wales. His parents were Norwegian, and so many of Roald's childhood summers were spent visiting his grandparents in Oslo, Norway. Unfortunately, Dahl experienced tragedy from an early age - his older sister, Astri, died from appendicitis when she was just 7 years of age (Roald was only 3), and his father died of pneumonia a few weeks later.
Llandaff Cathedral School, ages 7-9
Dahl began attending Llandaff Cathedral School in Wales when he was 7 years old. He was said to have been a mischievous child - one example of this is when he and his friends devised the 'great mouse plot', where they hid a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers in order to give an unpleasant old sweet shop owner a fright. The boys were later found out and were caned by their headmaster, with the sweet shop owner watching. (This story, as well as many other tales from his childhood, is recounted in Dahl’s autobiography, ‘Boy’.)
St Peter’s Boarding School, ages 9-13
As a result of this caning, Roald's mother withdrew him from Llandaff Cathedral School, sending him instead to St Peter's Boarding School in Weston-super-Mare, England. He was just 9 years old. Roald was very homesick to begin with, and even pretended to have appendicitis so that he would be sent back home to Wales!
Repton School, ages 13-17
At the age of 13, Roald became a pupil at Repton School in Derbyshire, England. One of the rare highlights of being a pupil here was when the boys were asked to sample and rate new chocolate bars for Cadbury! Overall, however, Dahl did not enjoy his school days, calling them 'days of horror' that were filled with 'rules, rules and still more rules that had to be obeyed.' Roald completed his education at Repton School in 1934, aged 17. When asked by his mother if he wanted to go to university, his reply was: 'No, thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to faraway wonderful places like Africa or China.'
Dahl’s first job with an oil company sent him to work first in Kenya, and then in Tanzania - both countries in the continent of Africa. During his time in Tanzania, Dahl saw many wild and dangerous animals, including lions, rhinos and hyenas, but it was the snakes that he feared the most. One time, as recounted in his second autobiography titled, 'Going Solo', he was visiting a friend when a deadly poisonous green mamba slithered up the steps and into the house. The snake-catcher had to be called! He later said of his time in Africa, 'I loved it all.'
World War II
In 1939, aged 23, Dahl joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Kenya at the outbreak of the Second World War, and became a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, he crash-landed in the Western Desert of North Africa. His plane was destroyed, and he suffered serious injuries to his head. He was taken to a hospital in Egypt, where he slowly recovered. He returned to the RAF, but began to suffer from headaches which caused him to black out, meaning it was too dangerous for him to fly any longer.
After being discharged from the RAF, Roald became a British Intelligence Officer (a spy!), passing on important information to the government during the war. He worked alongside another spy, Ian Fleming, who later became famous for his James Bond 007 series.
Marriage and Children
In 1953, Roald got married to American actress, Patricia Neal. They had five children together - Olivia, Tessa, Theo, Ophelia and Lucy. Every night, Roald used to make up stories to tell them at bedtime.
Roald Dahl with his wife Patricia Neal
Becoming an Author
In 1961, Roald Dahl's first novel for children, 'James and the Giant Peach', was published. After this first children's novel, many more followed. In total, he wrote 20 children’s books - 17 fiction books and 3 poetry books. How many have you read?!
Film and Television
Dahl also wrote the screenplay for a film adaptation of 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'. It was released in 1971, under the slightly different title of 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.' He was also involved in writing the screenplays of the James Bond film, 'You Only Live Twice', in 1967 as well as the musical, 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang', in 1968.
Between 1979 and 1988, Dahl also had a television show for adults called ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, in which his short stories for adults were made into episodes. Dahl introduced each episode, explaining his inspiration for the story, which almost always had an unexpected twist at the end.
Dahl had a small hut at the bottom of his garden, where he would go to write. It contained a battered old armchair (which was his mother's) and a table of strange mementos, including a silver ball made from old chocolate wrappers, and a piece of his own hip bone that was removed during an operation! On the walls of the hut were photos and postcards. There was even a Christmas card from a man named Willy Wonka, who was a postman in America!
Dahl did not type his stories; he wrote them all by hand on yellow lined paper, using a well-sharpened HB pencil. (He always had a supply of extra pencils next to him.) He wrote for four hours every day; two hours in the morning, and two in the afternoon. Dahl did not want his children disturbing him whilst he was in his writing hut, so he told them wolves lived there!
Roald continued to write his fantastic stories until his death on 23rd November, 1990. He was 74 years old. (He was buried with some of his favourite items, including: a power saw, some snooker cues, red wine, chocolate, and of course, his HB pencils!)
In 2005, the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre opened in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, where Dahl lived for the last 36 years of his life. The museum is crammed full of all things Roald Dahl-related - it even includes the inside of his writing hut!
Children all over the world continue to read, enjoy and be inspired by his unique stories to this day.
- Dahl’s parents named him after the Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, who was the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911.
- In Norwegian, Roald’s name is pronounced ‘Rooo-al’, with a silent ‘d’.
- When he was a child, Dahl had two pet mice called Marmaduke and Montague.
- As an adult, Dahl was 6 foot 6 inches, which means he was 2 metres tall!
- He could speak three languages - English, Norwegian and Swahili - the latter being the official language spoken in Kenya and Tanzania.
- Roald’s first ever piece of published writing was an account of his plane crash during World War II.
- Dahl invented over 250 new words (there is even a special Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary!).
- According to his teachers at school, Dahl was never very good at writing!
- September 13th, 2020 would have been Dahl’s 104th birthday!
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