What important lessons can Roald Dahl stories teach our children?
Roald Dahl. There must be very few teachers, parents and children of KS2 age and above that have not heard of this much-loved author. In a writing career spanning over three decades, he wrote a total of 20 novels and poetry books for children, beginning with James and the Giant Peach in 1961. The last novel that was published before his death at the age of 74 in 1990 was Esio Trot.
My own childhood obsession with his books began when I read The BFG whilst on a summer holiday in Center Parcs. I vividly remember starting to read it one night, lying on the top bunk of the bed, and was immediately transported into Sophie’s world. I still remember the horror I felt as I read the part about the huge hand snaking in through the window towards her.
Dahl’s imagination and ability to weave a fantastical story are what make his books so special, so engrossing, that even the most reluctant reader’s interest can be sparked. Here is what the writer had to say about learning to read:
There are many important themes, or messages, throughout Dahl’s books that contain ‘life lessons’ which are still very much relevant today. Based on this, here are some suggestions for Roald Dahl stories you might choose as your next class reader:
Teamwork and playing to one another's strengths
The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me
A young boy named Billy meets a giraffe, a pelican and a monkey, who together have formed The Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company. They make the perfect team by utilising each of their unique abilities. The giraffe—with its long neck—can reach the highest of windows. The pelican—with its deep beak—can carry a large amount of water to wherever it is needed. The agile monkey can clean and polish windows at speed.
The importance of friendship
James and the Giant Peach
James is a lonely little boy who lives with his unkind, malicious aunts after the death of his parents. He is desperate to meet someone his own age to talk and play with, but his evil guardians prevent this. When a magical peach grows in the garden, he suddenly finds wonderful, supportive friends in an unusual group of characters. Their nurturing friendship helps James to transform from a scared, helpless little boy into a confident, capable young man.
Being kind to each other
Mr and Mrs Twit – the cruel and monstrous villains of The Twits.
Mr and Mrs Twit are a horrible couple, ugly on the outside because of their ugliness on the inside – they are cruel not only to each other, but to everyone and everything around them. This constant unkindness results in a miserable life for the Twits, and they eventually get exactly what they deserve with a fantastic ‘taste of their own medicine’ scenario.
Actions have consequences
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
In this story, there are well-defined ‘good’ and ‘bad’ characters. The ‘bad’ characters are a combination of spoilt, greedy, selfish, thoughtless and rude, and throughout the book receive punishments befitting their behaviour. Charlie, on the other hand, is a ’good’ character – considerate, polite, and able to admit his mistakes. He and his whole family benefit from the rewards he is given as a result of his behaviour.
Empathising with others
The Magic Finger
A girl with magical powers makes her duck-hunting neighbours, the Gregg family, trade places with the ducks. The neighbours shrink and grow wings, while the ducks grow, acquire guns and begin to hunt the family. This is a clear allegory for the importance of thinking about how others feel by putting yourself in their shoes.
Not judging people by their appearances
The Grand High Witch looks young, beautiful and stylish – however, as soon as this surface appearance is peeled away (literally in this case), a grotesque, evil character is revealed. In contrast, when the boy is changed into a mouse, he at first appears weak and helpless. Yet, although small and seemingly insignificant, he manages to bring about the downfall of all the witches.
These recommendations give just one example of a theme to be explored in each book, but there are multiple messages to be found in every one of Roald Dahl’s stories. See if your class can identify them all!
On a final note, although maybe not the most important life lesson I learnt from reading Roald Dahl books, I can definitely credit Matilda with my ability to always remember how to spell a particular word:
‘Miss Honey gives us a little song about each word and we all sing it together and we learn to spell it in no time. Would you like to hear the song about ‘difficulty’?
I should be fascinated,’ the Trunchbull said in a voice dripping with sarcasm.
‘Here it is,’ Nigel said. ‘Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs FFI, Mrs C, Mrs U, Mrs LTY. That spells difficulty.’
How perfectly ridiculous!’ snorted Miss Trunchbull. ‘Why are all these women married?’
It makes me smile every time!
Check out PlanBee’s Roald Dahl-related FreeBees:
- Inspiring Roald Dahl Quotes Posters to display around your classroom
- A fun Roald Dahl Characters Word Search to keep your class occupied