I am a member of “Plot-aholics Anonymous”. Readers like me know what a struggle it is to meander through a character driven tale that really goes nowhere. I need conflict. I need struggle. I need a villain to be the yin to the hero’s yang.
When I pitched this idea to Colby, I thought it would be easy to come up with ten great villains from children’s literature. It turned out to be ridiculously hard to narrow my list (and this was after I decided that I could lump a whole mess of baddies into one group at the end). Count Olaf is only being mentioned now, because he was my last cut. I cut a man who spent 13 books terrorizing the Baudelaire children. Whoa.
In no particular order, here is a list of my favorite villains:
Lord Ombra from Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson: I wavered between Lord Ombra and Black Stache/Captain Hook from this series, but in the end the villain who is not quite human and can possess your mind by stealing your shadow captured my heart.
S. Wendell Palomino from Swindle by Gordon Korman: An all out sleaze bucket. He swindles Griffin Bing out of a million dollar baseball card and then taunts Griffin after the fact. There would be no ‘man-with-the-plan’ that continues on for three more books if it wasn’t for Palomino’s over-the-top nastiness.
Marv Hammerman from The 18th Emergency By Betsy Byars: I remember reading this when I was in middle school and Marv Hammerman still haunts me to this day. Kudos to Byars for creating two of the greatest names ever, the neaderthalian Hammerman and the diminutive hero of this story, Mouse Fawley.
Cluny the Scourge from Redwall by Brian Jaques: Eye patch wearin’, ferret headed pole totin’, poison barbed tail whippin’ beast of a rat who also leads an army of four hundred other nasties. Seriously, how did Matthias beat this dude?
The Shroud/Herman Plunkett from Powerless by Matthew Cody: Oh how I love this dastardly menace. His town is filled with superhero children and he spends his life stealing their powers and memories when they turn 13. With a nod to classic comic book villains Cody has given us a master class in how to create a wickedly good bad guy.
The White Witch from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: Yes, I am aware that she appears in other books within the Chronicles of Narnia, which just makes her that much more awesome, but this incredibly beautiful and powerful antagonist shows her best stuff while turning Edmund Pevensie bad with some Turkish Delight.
Casper/Fako Mustacho from Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger: This newcomer is the guy who knocked Count Olaf off the list. I think he usurped Olaf due to his brilliant and humorous plan to take over the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if sometime soon we have an actual presidential candidate sporting the Heidleberg Handlebar.
Delores Umbridge from Harry Potter (the last three books) by J.K. Rowling: Rowling definitely knows how to craft compelling villains and Delores is one of the best. Umbridge’s pompous and vile attitude combined with her sickly sweet grandmotherly wardrobe makes for a total package.
Voldemort from Harry Potter … by J.K. Rowling: It would have been hard not to include the dark wizard who fuels the plot of one of the greatest stories ever written for children. Even though I knew early on he would be vanquished, but his insidious nature sure made the entire series fun.
Nine down and more than one to go. I knew I had to include at least one villain from a Roald Dahl book, but once you’ve have one, you just can’t stop. Dahl deserves a lifetime achievement award for consistently conjuring despicable but enjoyable antagonists. Here is just a sampling of his miscreants:
Boggis, Bunce and Bean from The Fantastic Mr. Fox: ”Boggis and Bunce and Bean, One fat, one short, one lean, These horrible crooks, So different in looks, Were nonetheless equally mean.”
The Grand High Witch from The Witches: What’s not to like about a character whose biggest desire is to rid the world of all human children?
The Fleshlumpeater from The BFG: Holy Snozzcumbers Batman, I wouldn’t want to meet this menacing giant any time soon.
Mr. and Mrs. Twit from the Twits: Capable of cold and calculating acts of cruelty plus mighty ugly to boot.
Spiker and Sponge from James and the Giant Peach: Can you admit you didn’t cheer when this wicked duo was crushed way too early in the story?
Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Greedy like Gordon Gekko and ultimately meets her demise via some crafty squirrels.
Miss Trunchbull from Matilda: C’mon you know you have wished that just once you could throw a student in “The Chokey” and bellow “In this classroom, in this school, I am God!”
Who did I miss?
Tony Keefer (@tonykeefer) lives with his NBC family and teaches 4th grade NBCers in Dublin, Ohio. He also writes for Choice Literacy and on his own blog atychiphobia.
Laurel Snyder needs our help. She is going to attempt to write a chapter book, and she would like the input of your students. If this is something you and your students would be interested in, please show them Laurel’s video and then have them take the survey.
Survey will close at at 11:59 P.M. EST on April 27.
A Wizard of Earthsea (1975) by Ursula K. Le Guin
In 1968, a small press publisher asked already famous fantasy and science fiction author Ursula K. LeGuin to write something for “older kids,” promising her free range. She wrote an archetypal story of a boy who leaves his miserable origins and achieves fame at a school for wizards. Yes, Virginia, this sounds like a story you know, but it is not. It is much more than an earlier version of Harry Potter, though like Rowlings’ novel, A Wizard of Earthsea does begin a series of books, this one set in the fantasy archipelago of Earthsea.
I pulled this book off the library shelf in 1979. It was tantalizingly close to the many books by Madeleine L’Engle, which I took to be a good sign. I have re-read Wizard every year since, though I did not find out that there were other Earthsea books until the late 1980s.
The powerful wizard boy here is named Sparrowhawk. The boy is rudely raised, but the power of his gift for magic is evident to the wandering wizard Ogion. Ogion gives the boy his true name (Ged) which must be protected and only revealed to the most intimate of friends because of its power. Ogion promises to train him as well, but Sparrowhawk is too proud and too impatient for Ogion’s brand of teaching. He goes off to Roke Island, home of the school for wizards. There, too, he excels, but his pride and his rage overpower his gifts. To show off his brilliance to all, Sparrowhawk calls forth the spirit of the dead queen, causing a rip in the world. From this rip, he is attacked and almost killed by a terrible shadow creature.
What is this creature? Can Ged master it, as he fears he must in order to live? How can he use what he has learned, humbly, this time, to battle this hideous evil?
The world of Earthsea is a world of magic and dragons, high adventure and very quiet moments that have mysterious power. There are adventures, including triumphs, but all is colored by the inevitable battle with the creature. Throughout the story, Ged struggles to understand the balance his teachers vainly tried to urge him to seek. “To light a candle is to cast a shadow,” one of the Masters tells him. All our actions have consequences, a lesson we need to learn sooner rather than later.
I worry sometimes that A Wizard of Earthsea is too quiet a book for today’s readers. There are no antics, no quartet of friends, no talking objects or creatures. But there is the faithful otak, the mysterious dragon Ged finds the courage to look in the eye, and the Immanent Grove, where Ged longs to walk. The book rewards the patient reader and is a beautiful read-aloud. In 1987, the fantasy magazine Locus polled its readers, and they placed A Wizard of Earthsea as the number three fantasy book of all time, behind two of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books. Long may readers find their joy in Earthsea.
Kim McCollum-Clark has been a nerdy bookworm since about 1969. She almost literally grew up in the public library in Reidsville, NC. She reads and writes for a living as a professor of English Education at Millersville University near Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Boy + Bot
By: Ame Dyckman
Illustrated By: Dan Yaccarino
Release Date: April 10, 2012
I received Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman in the mail last Friday. I knew that Mr. Schu loved the book , so I was excited to give it a read. I waited until my son got home so that we could experience the book for the first time together. He walked in the door, grabbed the book off table, walked over to the couch, looked at me and said, “Dad, aren’t you going to come and read me this sweet robot book?”
Boy and Bot meet in the woods and they hit it off right away. They play in the woods having fun together, until the robot’s power switch turns off. The boy takes care of the robot like his sick mom would take care of him.
My son was very worried about the robot. “Dad, is Bot going to be okay?”
Later in the story the Robot has to take care of the boy. Bot takes care of the boy like someone would take care of a robot.
When the robot oils the boy to try and make him better, my son starting cracking up. He thought it was the funniest thing he had ever seen. “Dad, that is so silly. Boys don’t use oil.”
Towards the end of the book you will find a two-page spread that feels like a movie montage, filled with pictures of Boy and Bot playing. I know this montage works for the reader, because I have spent the last few days acting out this spread with my son. We take turns being the boy and the robot as we pretend to: splash in a pool, drink from our oil cans, pick apples, pose for pictures.
Don’t read or buy Boy + Bot because this 30 year old dude thinks it is a great book (I do), check out this book because young readers will fall in love with Ame’s book. When I asked my son if he love Boy + Bot, he stole his answer from Bot’s mouth, “Affirmative.”
Colby is a fourth grade teacher in Battle Creek, MI. He helps out with #titletalk and #nerdybookclub.
Books have shaped my life the way little else has. Important moments have always been associated with whatever book I was reading at the time. Starting kindergarten? Well that’s A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams, still one of my favorite picture books. Graduating from high school? When I think back, the cover of Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden always flashes through my mind. My first real job? The Remains of the Day by Kazuko Ishiguro pops up. And moments that may not have seemed notable were given new meaning if they were associated with a particularly important book. That random summer trip to Connecticut will always be memorable because I was reading The Giver by Lois Lowry for the first time. Christmas Eve 1994 stands out because it was the night I finished Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. In fact, my very earliest memories of childhood are, not surprisingly, of reading and re-reading my first favorite book: A Treasury of Mother Goose illustrated by Hilda Offen. These stories and characters not only shaped my life but gave my memories of it new meaning.
For a long time, I asked myself, how did this happen? Of course, a person tends to remember her favorite books as a child, the ones that moved her and immersed her in worlds she never wanted to leave (and subsequently entered over and over again). But to have books so enmeshed in my life story? Did that happen to other people? I decided to use this post as an opportunity to reflect. As a very young child I was fortunate to have a mother who read to me for hours every day and a fantastic library right across the street from my house. As soon as we were done with one batch of books we’d head over to the library where Beverly, the librarian, would help us select more. In between these books, my mother read A Treasury of Mother Goose to me every night (at my request) for years. The book became so tattered and worn that we had to replace it twice. By age two, I had memorized all the rhymes. By age three, all I wanted to do was read the words myself. When I finally started reading several years later I struggled with the ability to read silently; it was only by reading aloud that I could comprehend what the words meant. I still remember that moment when, all of sudden, I could read in my head. It was early in my first grade year and I was sitting at my desk right after recess, I had glanced at my teacher across the room and then back at my book when all of a sudden it clicked, like riding a bike.
So perhaps because reading dominated so many of my early memories my brain was primed to associate books with everything else in my life. Perhaps the fact that I had a parent who was dedicated to raising a reader had something to do with it. Or perhaps this connection went back to that early access to a wonderful library and librarian. Or maybe it was a combination of all of these things, and, later in life, friends who craved books as much as I did. It can’t be an accident that Eric, my fiancé, loves reading aloud. Or that one of my best friends in high school introduced me to Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite authors. And it certainly can’t be a mistake that I now find myself six years deep into the world of children’s publishing.
To make a long story short, I’ve been a member of the Nerdy Book Club for as long as I can remember. I will always feel a twinge when I pick up a copy of Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech or Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli or Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. These books still sit on my bookshelf with all of my memories resting between their pages. And now I wonder, what’s to come? I’m getting married this summer, what book will forever be associated with that event? And what about you? When you think back on the major events in your life, the births, deaths, loves, and new beginnings, what books do you associate with them? What titles shape your life story?
Kellie Celia has had the pleasure of working in children’s publishing for the past six years. She spends most of her days connecting with amazing authors, teachers, librarians, bloggers, booksellers, and kids who are as passionate about middle grade books as she is. She is currently the marketing communications manager for the publishing team at Walden Media. You can find her on Twitter @WaldenPondPress or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/waldenpondpress.
As a child I was deathly afraid of The Monster at the End of this Book, but I was also intrigued by it. Each time the story was read to me my imagination took over and got the better of me. I imagined all sorts of different monsters each one scarier than the last. After several reads I figured out that the monster at the end of the book would always be Grover. What a relief! I was not only working on my fears, but also forming a better understanding about how books, and the world work. The Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham both caused me anxiety. I felt so nervous for Sally and her brother. Why was this Cat torturing them? The same went for Sam-I-Am: Why wouldn’t he leave that guy alone? Needless to say these books became favorites of mine. I overcame my anxiety when I learned how the humor in the book worked, and that in the end everything worked out.
Many children between the ages of 3 and 6 have multiple fears, both rational and irrational. At this stage in their life their brains are growing to almost full size, and they are developing a sense of self-concept. At this age children are really trying to figure out the world, and how they fit in that world. Children, like adults fear the unknown, but unlike adults, children cannot make the distinction between what is rational and irrational. From the ages of 2 to 4 children develop the ability to create mental images. This opens up the possibility of creating fantasy, but does not come with understanding of what is fantasy.
Picture books often contain elements of fantasy and can also conceptualize an idea in an abstract way. A picture book about monsters can be many things. It can be about a monster that is scary like Abiyoyo. It can be a metaphor for a certain type of behavior like in Angry Dragon. It can even be a book about being afraid of monsters, There’s a Nightmare in My Closet is a perfect example of this type of book. Children are faced with not only understanding the real world, but also understanding the rules in several fantasy worlds and how they connect to the real world. This is important because children are learning that there are different possibilities that exist and different ways to interpret them. Children may approach these new worlds with caution. The world of Dr. Seuss is an excellent example. The creatures, the landscape, and the machines are like no other world. A cautious child might have to figure out how the machines in this world work, and what kind of animal a Sneetch is before he/she can feel comfortable with the stories.
Most picture books that tell a story have basic story elements such as conflict, and a climax. The tension that is created in these stories is often centered on fears that affect children, such as separation anxiety, and bullying. How I Became a Pirate deals with separation anxiety, and Bootsie Barker Bites deals with bullying. These depictions of “real” fears can sometimes cause more anxiety. The nice thing about picture books is that they tend to end on good note where the fear is overcome, and the child protagonist in the story is empowered.
Another positive aspect about being afraid of picture books is that the reader or viewer is in control. Books allow children to deal with their fears on their terms. Books are much easier to control than any other media. It is easier for a child to close a book than to turn off a television when something scares them. It is through this power that children not only learn how to face fears, but learn emergent literacy skills, such as how books work, and how stories work.
As an Early Childhood Educator, I have seen many children be afraid of a story during book time, then face their fears later in the day, by picking that book out and exploring the book at their own speed. Sometimes children will wait several days before picking out the book. Often this book becomes their favorite, because they have learned to conquer their fears. Fear also adds a level of excitement. Children sometimes will continue to work out their fears in their dramatic play, and art. Re-enacting parts of the story, and creating pictures from the story is a great way for children to continue to process their fears. Abiyoyo is a favorite at the childcare center I work at. It also scares some kids. I remember a child who would not be a part of group time during that story. Within the week, he started to take the book out on his own, still refusing to join the group when it was read at group time. On the playground, he began to play the father in the story, by holding up a stick and saying, “Zoop!” Those familiar with the story know that the father makes Abiyoyo disappear with a magic wand and saying the magic word, “Zoop!” Within two weeks, the child was choosing the book to be read during group time.
If your child or a child you know is afraid of a book, talk to the child about what they are afraid of, and don’t just dismiss the fear as being silly. If you dismiss children’s fears, the fears don’t go away; the child just won’t talk to you about them. It is extremely important to validate the child’s feelings. Let the child offer solutions to the problem. Like any great children’s story it is always more powerful when the child solves the problem. Often the solution to the fear is contained in the story. Books are a safe way of dealing with fears. Don’t hide the book or throw it away, let the child deal with his/her fear at his/her own speed. If that doesn’t work, before you hide or throw that book away continue the conversation.
After my debut picture book, A Dog is a Dog, came out Betsy Bird wrote a review for School Library Journal. She stated, “For every twenty kids who love this book there will be one that screams and runs in horror.” Sure enough on Goodreads several reviewers called my book “creepy.” This is not a bad thing when it comes to picture books. Those children who go running away screaming, and those who find it creepy, are just as likely to go and revisit that book on their own, and it might even become one of their favorites. My book is dealing with abstract ideas, and impossibilities. Some children will just accept it as silly and others will try and dissect it for logic, until they get the humor of the impossible, while others might never look at their pet dog in the same way again.
In the 10+ years that I have worked in Early Childhood Education, I’ve notice that kids like to be a little scared, as long as they know they are safe. A book is a very safe thing to be scared of. When opening Where the Wild Things Are most children go right to the wild rumpus, and study those monsters, or they look at Max being naughty. I’ve never seen a child study the image of Max when he gets home and his supper is waiting for him.
I hope this post opens up a larger discussion on the topic. Which picture books were you afraid of? Why were you afraid of that picture book? Which picture books are children you know afraid of? How did you deal with those fears? What was the result?
Stephen Shaskan grew up in Upstate New York, graduated from Rhode Island School of Design, and moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota to become a rock star! Since then Stephen has played in four rock bands. He has taught art classes for the Minnesota Museum of American Art, St. Paul Academy’s Artward Bound program, and Jordan Park School of Extended Learning, a Minneapolis Public School, where he met his beautiful, and wonderfully talented wife, Trisha Speed Shaskan.
Stephen now works as an early childhood educator at the Seward Child Care Center, where his musical talents have brought him rock star status among the children at the center. Whether he is writing and illustrating, or having a sing-a-long with the kids at SCCC, Stephen brings his love of art, music, children and humor to all his work.
One wall in my “office” is filled with professional books. From floor to ceiling, the shelves are filled with the books that have helped me learn to teach thoughtfully. I have been reading professional books throughout my career. I have hundreds and hundreds of books that have impacted my thinking. I have been lucky to learn from amazing people over the years and I learn something new every time I revisit an old favorite.
In the last several years, I have noticed I’ve purchased fewer professional books. I am reading more professionally, but much of my professional reading is online. So in a cleaning frenzy a few weeks ago, I decided to weed out some of my oldest professional books. I have been teaching for twenty-five years so I figured I could weed almost every book published before 2000 to keep my professional library current. I have so many books and so many that I read years and years ago, I figured that this would be an easy job.
But, the job was not so easy. While browsing the shelves, certain books triggered a feeling of transformation-books that changed who I was as a teacher Below are ten classics that I could not part with, even though they were all published prior to the year 2000. Even though I have newer editions of most off the titles, it was the original reading that made a difference for me. These classics set the stage for what we understand about literacy learning and teaching. So many of my big understandings come from these foundational books. These are the books that reground me, reenergize me and remind me of all the reasons I became a teacher to begin with.
This is in no way a conclusive list. But it is an important one to me. Consider this my “oldies” playlist of professional books—the learning that is playing around in my head every time I work with children.
Writing: Teachers and Children at Work by Donald Graves was one of the first books that took teachers inside classrooms to let us know what was possible. I didn’t read this until I graduated from college but Graves’ work was the work that created huge changes in classroom writing programs. It was a great time to start teaching and this book laid the groundwork for my thinking about writing process.
I had been teaching 1st grade for three years when I asked to be moved to 4th grade. I was excited about the change and had heard about the book (first edition) In the Middle by Nancie Atwell and was excited about the whole idea of workshop. The summer before I started teaching 4th grade, I was pregnant with our first daughter. My husband had a summer job delivering pizzas. I remember laying on the couch with a bag of Doritos and reading In the Middle over and over. That summer, I created a vision of an intermediate workshop classroom all because of this book.
I was able to attend the Teacher’s College Writing Project and learn from Lucy Calkins for ten days in 1991. But I was a total fan by the time I attended, having read everything she wrote cover to cover, over and over again. Lucy’s work helped us listen to children and to be thoughtful about everything we did. The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy Calkins was packed with new thinking.
Ralph Peterson was a huge influence for me. His book Grand Conversations was one that helped me see the power of books and student conversations. It was one of the first books that helped me to see what could happen if students were in charge of their own understandings and conversations. It was a short book, but packed with thinking about the importance of talk and ownership.
I learned a great deal from the staff at The Manhattan New School. I learned through visits, workshops and their writing. The schoolwas amazing and the staff was generous in sharing all that they learned. A book that changed my teaching was Shelley Harwayne’s Lasting Impressions: Weaving Literature Into the Writing Workshop. I have always been a huge children’s literature person and this book helped me see the power of children’s literature for writers.
What a Writer Needs by Ralph Fletcher is a book that opened up so many possibilities for me as a teacher of writing. The ways that Fletcher showed us, as readers, how to look at text with a writer’s eye was key to what we do today. This was the first book that that helped me “read like a writer”.
The work of Howard Gardner and Harvard’s Project Zero has been instrumental in who I am as a teacher today. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. As with all of Gardner’s work, this book taught me strategies for getting to know the whole child and to build on each child’s strengths.
A Workshop of the Possible: Nurturing Children’s Creative Development by Ruth Shagoury Hubbard is one of my favorite books ever. It takes a look at the creative process with young children and takes us into a classroom where children’s thinking is the key to the way in which the community works. I learned how much you could learn and how much better you can teach if you really listen to children and their thinking.
In the Company of Children by Joanne HIndley was another book from the staff at the Manhattan New School that showed us the daily life in a workshop classroom. In this book, Hindley shared the routines and structures that made her reading and writing workshops so successful. This was one of the first books I read that focused solely on those transitional readers in Grades 3 and 4.
Living the Questions by Brenda Power and Ruth Shagory taught me to teach, as with questions in mind and that the research I did in my classroom mattered. This book help to make clear for me that a research-based stance to teaching was important for me.
So, . I wasn’t totally successful at weeding my shelves. But the process was an enlightening one. I could see, on one wall, the influences of my teaching life. I could see the power of professional reading and the power of learning from others. My professional reading over the last 25 years has definitely impacted my practice.
Franki Sibberson is an elementary media specialist in Dublin, Ohio. She blogs at A Year of Reading (http://readingyear.blogspot.com)
I’ve been a member of the Nerdy Book Club since I was about 4 years old. According to my mom that’s when my parents discovered I could read. Since I am now 48, that means I’ve been a reader for 44 years. (See, readers can also do math!) I guess you could say I have been a reader for a long time. I have also been a reading teacher. I have been a reading tutor. I am now a reading ‘specialist’ for my school district. All of these roles have been so rewarding. I have loved seeing students turn into readers and seen great value in helping teachers make this happen as well. There is one reading role in my life though that stands above the rest- reading mother.
From the time my children were infants I read to them. They are now 23, 20, 18 and 6. All of them are readers and that makes me happy. Let me tell you how happy.
Several years ago after being married for 20 years, I was divorced. Of course it was hard for my kids. That’s an understatement. It was so difficult that for a period of about 2 years I was estranged from my middle daughter. It was one of the hardest periods of my life.
Then one day the phone rang. It was her. She had been reading my Facebook page and saw a post I wrote about the wonderful Laurie Halse Anderson. I had written to Laurie after hearing her speak at a convention and I was so excited (Nerdy Book Club Alert!) that she had written me back. Laurie is also one of my daughter’s favorite authors. My daughter wanted to know if I had REALLY had an email from her. I said yes. Then my daughter said, “I love writing and I love reading. That is so much a part of who I am and I know that part of me comes from you.”
We met for coffee and started a conversation that set us on the road to reconciliation. I remember that day we talked a lot about books; what we had read, what we were reading, what we were anxiously waiting to come out. We talked about books we loved, characters we hated, and which authors really needed to write a little faster because we couldn’t wait to see what happened next. It was safe territory. The books drew us together again. They were a common ground where we could stand and see the future.
Since that day we have shared and discussed so many new favorites with each other. It’s not unusual for me to get a text from her that just says something like, ‘Page 127!!!’ or ‘You won’t believe who been cast for Peeta!!’ We had to order 2 copies of The Fault in Our Stars because neither of us could stand to wait and read it second. Books make our lives sweeter and richer.
I knew as a young mother that reading to my children was important, but I never imagined at the time that it would one day bring my daughter back to me. When you open a book to share with someone, you never know the power it may hold to change a life- maybe even your own.
Do I love books?
I sure do.
Sherry Hall is an Instructional Specialist in Arlington, Texas. She is the author of a picture book, Tallulah and the Three Cowgirls, and is working on a novel…still…You can read her thoughts on whatever topic she happens to think of at firstname.lastname@example.org.
First, I want to point out that I’m not a teacher, but the main reason I love this book (and, by extension, everything relating to Roald Dahl) is because of one. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Pappas, gave us plenty of time to read and for 30 minutes or so a day, she’d even read to us (this was in the long-ago time, before standardized testing). She picked several great books (The Indian in the Cupboard, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) but best of all? She introduced us to Matilda and Miss Honey, Sophie and the BFG, Luke, his grandmother and the witches and, of course, Charlie and Willy Wonka.
I’m pretty sure that if the whole horcrux idea from Harry Potter is true, this book has a small piece of my soul.
I’ve always been a reader, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the first time I remember being absolutely captivated by a book. I got my own copy for my birthday one year and probably read it at least 400 times. Even so, I probably haven’t read it since middle school—although I’ve seen the Gene Wilder movie far more recently than that.
Just in case you haven’t read the book—and if that’s true for you, please remedy that now—it’s about a boy named Charlie who lives with his parents and both sets of grandparents. They’re incredibly poor but they love each other. What taunts Charlie is that he lives in a town with a chocolate factory, the best in the world, run by Willy Wonka. It had been closed for years, but recently, it opened again. Exactly who works there is a mystery…until the day Mr. Wonka announces that he will let five children (and their guardians) into the factory to see and taste its secrets. There’s going to be a worldwide contest, and the winners will be the ones who find the golden tickets. The tickets go to Augustus Gloop (incredibly fat kid), Veruca Salt (spoiled rich girl), Violet Beauregarde (gum chewer), Mike Teavee (TV freak) and, in a huge stroke of luck, Charlie. I’ll stop there, because if you haven’t read it, you need to not be spoiled about what happens to each of the kids.
Re-reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was like unexpectedly running into an old friend, someone you hadn’t seen in years but who was both exactly how you remembered but also somehow better.
It was just as darkly funny as I remembered, but there was also a lot of social commentary that’s far more relevant now. (I wonder how happy Mike Teavee would be in an era of OnDemand and DVRs and hundreds of TV channels…assuming his encounter with Mr. Wonka’s Chocolate Television room didn’t cure him of his addiction.)
I’m sorry I let so much time go by between re-readings. I’m hoping to have a Dahl-binge sometime soon.
Kelly Hager lives in Baltimore with her adorable dog, Sam. She enjoys sleeping, watching movies, anything with peanut butter as a main ingredient and, obviously, reading. She’s only slightly ashamed to admit that she likes books more than people (but not you guys; you all are great!).