Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
240 pages

Roald Dahl's classic children's novel about an extraordinary five-year old named Matilda Wormwood is humorous and witty while tackling serious issues such as child abuse and neglect. The book opens with the narrator's funny remarks of parents thinking their children are bright when they are not. This leads to the eponymous character Matilda and how her parents ignore her completely despite her genius level intellect.

Matilda's neglect by her crooked car salesman father and her vacuous mother enables her to walk to the library alone and borrow books on a regular basis. She reads all the children's book and numerous adult classics from authors such as Charles Dickens, John Steinback, and Rupyard Kipling before enrolling in school. Matilda is so angry with her parent's treatment of her that she plays cruel pranks on her father to get back at him.
When Matilda goes to Crumchem school she meets her lovely teacher Miss Honey and amazes her with her brilliance. Miss Honey attempt to tells the school's headmistress Miss Trunchbull that Matilda needs to be skipped to the top grade, Miss Trunchbull objects. Miss Trunchbull is a gigantic tyrant who has physically and verbally abused many of the students at her school, but no one reports her behavior out of fear. Over the course of the novel Miss Trunchbull throws a student over the school fence by her pigtails, holds a student in the air by their ears, forces a student to eat an entire large chocolate cake alone, and even threw a student out the window.
Though Miss Trunchball has a fearsome reputation and violent disposition, many students defy her by playing tricks on her, including Matilda's friend and classmate Lavender. Lavender puts a newt in Miss Trunchbull's water jug during her weekly visit to Miss Honey's class. When the newt is discovered Miss Trunchbull blames Matilda. Matilda becomes so enraged by the accusation she unleashes an eye power that causes her to tip over the cup with the newt in it. The newt lands on Miss Trunchbull and she screams. Miss Trunchbull yells that Matilda did it, but Miss Honey defends her by saying she never left her seat. After class is dismissed Matilda shows Miss Honey that she can move things with her eyes. Miss Honey is confounded and invites Matilda home to have tea.
When they arrive at Miss Honey's cottage Matilda is shocked to learn that Miss Honey lives in impoverished conditions and questions why. Miss Honey tells the story of her childhood and her escape from a wicked aunt who probably killed Miss Honey's father and stole her inheritance, along with usurping her teacher's salary as punishment for leaving the aunt. Matilda thinks Miss Honey is a hero for making her own life despite having nothing. Then Matilda finds out Miss Honey's aunt is Miss Trunchbull and decides she must take action using her power. She asks Miss Honey what her father's name is, her aunt's name is and what her father called her and goes home.
Over the next few days Matilda practices lifting and moving one of her father's cigar to accomplish her plot against Miss Trunchbull. By the following week during Miss Trunchbull's class visit Matilda seizes the opportunity to strike as Miss Trunchbull is dangling a boy upside down by the legs. A student named Nigel yells to everyone that the chalk is moving on it's own. The chalk writes a message for Agatha from Magnus about his Jenny getting her house and her wages back. Miss Trunchbull faints at the end of the message. After she is carried away to the sick room by five teachers. She disappears from town and never returns.
Several months later Matilda and Miss Honey are enjoying tea in Miss Honey's restored childhood home. When Matilda goes home she sees her parents frantically packing and telling her to hurry and pack as well. They tell her they are moving to Spain and not coming back. Matilda is mortified and run's back to Miss Honey's house. She brings Miss Honey to her parents and asks them if she can stay with Miss Honey. Matilda' parents give her permission to stay with Miss Honey and they leave for the airport without looking back. Matilda jumped into Miss Honey's arms and they held onto each other until the parents and the brother were out of sight.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Rating: 4 out 5 stars
155 pages

Roald Dahl's children's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a charming, yet slightly oft-putting story about a humble young boy named Charlie Bucket who inherits a famous chocolate factory. Although it is imaginative and entertaining, in some of the scenes the chocolate factory owner, Willy Wonka, appears to be unconcerned about the children's safety. Nevertheless, Dahl's hero makes up for the lack of decency in the other characters.

The book opens with a picture of Charlie's grandparents and a comment that the people in the bed are very old--Dahl's typical blunt humor. The four grandparents share a bed and have not gotten out of it in twenty years due to their feeble health. They are Mr. and Mrs. Bucket's parents. They all share a tiny two bedroom house and are severely malnourished due to their impoverishment.

During one rough winter when Mr. Bucket, who is the sole income provider for the household, loses his job at the toothpaste factory, an announcement in the newspaper brings temporary excitement to the Bucket home. Willy Wonka would open his chocolate factory for the first time in over ten years to winners of the five Golden Tickets distributed in Wonka's candy. Charlie was not very optimistic about his chances of finding a ticket because he had no money to buy a lot of candy like other children. However, his birthday gift every year was a Wonka candy bar, and this year's candy might have the ticket. With his family gathered around he opened the wrapper, but there was no ticket.

Meanwhile, Golden Ticket winners were announced in the papers: Augustus Gloop, described as being enormously fat and greedy, Veruca Salt, a spoiled rich girl, Violet Beauregarde, a girl with a chewing gum addiction, and Mike Teavee, a boy who is obsessed with television. Charlie and his family had given up on the idea of winning a ticket when one day Charlie was walking home and found money on the ground. He was so hungry he immediately bought a candy bar and ate it. He decided to buy one more piece of candy and give the rest of the change to his mother. Charlie opened the second candy bar and there was the last Golden Ticket.

 Mayhem ensued in the store after the discovery was made public. Charlie ran home to protect his ticket and tell his family. Grandpa Joe was so delighted about the news he jumped out of his bed for the first time in twenty years. Mr. Bucket insisted that Grandpa Joe should be the one to escort Charlie to the chocolate factory the next day. When Charlie and Grandpa Joe arrived in line with the other winners at the gates of the factory, Mr. Wonka greeted them with much enthusiasm while rushing them inside to begin the tour. The tour group is astonished by the amazing machines and inventions in the factory. While they are in the Chocolate Room, Augustus Gloop starts drinking from the river made of chocolate despite Mr. Wonka's protests. Augstus falls in the chocolate and is sucked into a giant pipe. Despite the danger Mr. Wonka insists the Oompa Loompas, tiny people who live in the factory and work for Mr. Wonka, will retrieve him from another room in the factory. Mr. and Mrs. Gloop  leave with several Oompa Loompas. Shortly afterwards a crowd of Oompa Loompas across the river sing a song about Augustus being greedy and criticizing him for his vices.

Mr. Wonka shows the remaining tourists his latest inventions including the Everlasting Gobstoppers, and a gum that will allow you to eat three meals a day. Violet takes a piece of this gum and chews it after Mr. Wonka tells her not to. He warned her that the gum was still in the experimental phase. Violet turns into a giant blueberry as Mr. Wonka anticipated would happen from his earlier test trials. The Oompa Loompas roll Violet out of the Inventing Room and her parents leave with her. Charlie and Grandpa Joe listen to the second Oompa Loompa song chastising Violet and her parents. The leftover winners proceed on the tour and are led to look inside the Nut Sorting Room where factory squirrels separate good and bad walnuts. Veruca wants to own one of the squirrels and is defiant when Mr. Wonka tells Mr. Salt they cannot be purchased. She enters the Nut Sorting Room and tries to take one of the squirrels. The squirrels grab Veruca and test to see if she is a good or bad nut. They identify her as a bad nut and throw her down a garbage chute. Mr. and Mrs. Salt go in the room to get her and get thrown down the chute by the squirrels too. The Oompa Loompas sing a song about Veruca's spoiled behavior.

The last two children take an unorthodox glass elevator to the Television Room where Mr. Wonka is working on his grandest project yet, Chocolate Television. The Oompa Loompas are conducting trials that will send real live chocolate into a television screen. Mike Teavee is so excited about the prospect he decides to send himself through the television. Mr. Wonka claims it is a deadly transaction, but Mike runs and does it anyway. Mrs. Teavee is alarmed and frightened when her son takes several minutes to appear on the screen and is now tiny enough to fit in her hand. Mr. Wonka orders the Oompa Loompas to take them to a room where Mike can be stretched back to a normal size. A group of Oompa Loompas sing about the negative affects of television on children.

Grandpa Joe and Charlie are now the only ones left on the tour. Mr. Wonka reveals to Charlie on the glass elevator that he has won the chocolate factory. Mr. Wonka intends to train Charlie to be able to manage the factory after him. Charlie is in disbelief, but he is extremely happy. Mr. Wonka sends the glass elevator out of the factory and it flies over the Bucket's tiny house to pick up the other grandparents and Mr. and Mrs. Bucket. They are all skeptical and wary of the news, but Grandpa Joe and Charlie manage to get them on the elevator where they will go to the chocolate factory to live for the rest of their days.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

James and The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
160 pages

Roald Dahl's children's classic opens with the main character James Henry Trotter, at age 4, living a blissfully happy life until his parents were tragically eaten by an escaped rhinoceros from a nearby zoo. James is sent to live with his horribly cruel and grotesque Aunts Spiker and Sponge who verbally and physical abuse him in addition to depriving him of normal child activities such as playing outside. James's fortune changes when he is seven years old and meets a strange man who offers him a bag of magic glowing crocodile tongues. The man tells James that if he eats them all his life will change forever.

James takes the bag of magic crocodile tongues and hurries through the garden to eat them in secret, but drop the bag and loses its contents in a few seconds. James is distraught and has to return to his miserable life at his aunt's house. The next day while James is getting yelled at by his aunts, they all notice a peach growing on the tree in the garden. The three of them stare in astonishment as they witness the peach swiftly grow to the size of a house. Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge decide to make a profit off of the peach by displaying it to town members and visitors for an expensive fee. When James is sent to clean up after the spectators he happens across a tunnel at the side of the peach and crawls inside, thus beginning an adventure that changes his life.

James reaches the stone of the peach and goes inside. He is frightened to see abnormally large insects that can speak. They are introduced as the Old Green Grasshopper, Lady Bug, Centipede, Glowworm, Earthworm, Miss Spider, and Silkworm. After James helps untie all 21 pairs of Centipede's boots, they go to sleep inside of the peach. The next morning James awakes to find out that Centipede is chewing the stem of the peach loose to free them from the hill and embark on a journey. When the peach is snapped loose Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge are crushed to death in its path. The gigantic peach rolls through the town, possibly passing Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, and past farms and villages until it rolls off a cliff and lands in a body of water. James and the insects are excited to float on sea safely until the peach is swarmed by dozens of hungry sharks attempting to eat them. While the insects are panicking and feeling doomed, James comes up with the brilliant plan to hook the seagulls overhead to the stem of the peach using silk and web strings made by Silkworm and Miss Spider, and using Earthworm as bait to hook the seagulls. After James hooks over 500 seagulls, the peach lifts out of the water and the seagulls carry the peach high in the sky.

After they thank James and celebrate, they realize that the sharks haven't damaged the peach at all, as the narrator explains the peach was too big for the sharks to bite. The Centipede falls off the peach while singing a song in celebration, but James jumps after him and rescues Centipede while tied to the peach with a silk string. Afterwards, The Old Green Grasshopper plays a song using his legs and the insects along with James journey through the day and night feeling optimistic. When the peach passes clouds in the moonlight the travelers are amazed to see creatures called Cloud Men making hailstones and snowballs for the world below. They are hard at work on the weather when Centipede taunts them and causes the Cloud Men to launch an attack with the hailstones. James and the insects lie low until the seagulls pass the Cloud Men. They believe they are safe when they encounter another group of Cloud Men constructing a rainbow. The peach crashes into the rainbow operation and messes up the Cloud Men's work. The Cloud Men are angered and throw trash at the peach and pour rainbow paint on Centipede. Then the Cloud Men pour a deluge of rain on the peach that nearly drowns James and the insects, though they manage to survive.

After the seagulls fly away from the Cloud Men for good, the peach flies over New York City. The peach is visible to New Yorkers and an alarm is sounded for the large "bomb" about to drop on the city. A plane passes by the peach and slices all the strings attached to the seagulls loose, and the giant peach free falls to the ground. The peach stops when it gets stuck on the pole of the Empire State Building. Hundreds of policemen and firefighters rush to the top of the building and discover the alarming sight of the Centipede and the other large bugs, until James appears and tells them that they are harmless. James and his friends instantly become famous and are treated to a parade around the city. James invites the children following the peach at the parade to eat the peach and the peach is eaten clean to the stone. James ends up living in the stone that is situated in Central Park by the novel's end. James and his magical insect friends each end up having successful careers and lives after their exciting journey across the Atlantic, as James himself reveals at the end of the story.