Sunday, November 22, 2009


Biblio Bits Matilda by Roald Dahl, narrated by Ron Keith, Recorded Books, 1994 (ISBN 0788701398)

Reading Level/Interest Age 840 lexile/Ages 9-11

Genre Magical Realism

Format Audio Book

Plot Summary
Matilda is a child genius of two very dull parents who have no idea about her mental capacity. At an early age, she discovers the library and the kind librarian, as an alternative to sitting at home, alone in front of the television (while her mother plays Bingo). Matilda spends her afternoons, at age four, reading classic works of literature. When she enters school, she already knows how to read, do complex math, and spell. Her teacher, Miss Honey, would like to promote her to the top form but Miss Trunchbull has been warned by Matilda's father about this new trouble-maker. Miss Trunchbull is the headmistress, a true Dahl villain, who hates children and reserves a special closet for punishment in her office. So Matilda stays with Miss Honey, who offers her extra work and lessons to augment what she is teaching. Matilda is not conceited about her abilities and has several friends at school. She develops the ability to move things with her mind and these moments, like the clever tricks she plays on her parents, are triumphant. A classic tale of a misunderstood child who finds support outside of her family and ultimately triumphs.

Critical Evaluation
Roald Dahl is a terrific tween author because his protagonists have those qualities of the psychological moment of tweendom---taken to Dahl levels of extremism! Feeling misunderstood? So are Matilda, Sophie (BFG) and James (of Giant Peach fame). Feeling like everyone is out to get you? (Ditto the previous examples!) Are your parents dull and stupid? (Matilda's are!) Dahl's stories have the quality of a fable, since the characters are extremes: so lovely (Miss Honey) or so horrible (Miss Trunchbull). In Matilda, readers will empathize with the awful, embarrassing scene of the boy who is forced by Miss Trunchbull to consume an entire, enormous cake as punishment for sneaking a piece (we are not ever sure that he really did), in front of the whole school. While it is unlikely that readers will have experienced this particular cruelty, we have probably all experienced moments of unjust accusation and public humiliation by adults. The reader, Ron Keith, does an amazing job of giving unique voices to so many characters, with excellent emphasis and sense of drama.

Reader's Annotation
Classic Dahl! Matilda is ignored and maligned by her parents but saved by the lovely Miss Honey, who recognizes her as the child genius she is. The true villain is the nefarious Miss Trunchbull, headmistress of the school.

Author Information
Roald Dahl was born in Wales to Norwegian parents, in 1916. He attended private schools in England and was not considered a student with promise, as this statement from one of his report cards at Repton indicates: "Vocabulary negligible, sentences mal-constructed. He reminds me of a camel." (Gale Cengage, Literature Resource Center). He was a pilot for the Royal Air Force during WWII, also serving as an intelligence agent. Dahl was married to Patricia Neal for 30 years and they had five children; he subsequently remarried Felicity D'Abreau Crosland. Dahl died in Oxford in 1990. (Information in this author biography are from the Gale Cengage, online database Literature Resource Center, and from Wikipedia.)

Challenge issues
Matilda, and other works by Roald Dahl, appear on ALA's list of most frequently challenged books/authors. This book portrays neglect and outright cruelty, as well as telekinesis.

Booktalking Ideas
I would love to have this in a book/movie talk, as I think the film adaptation was excellent. Others might include Because of Winn-Dixie, Mary Poppins, Holes, and Hoot. Or perhaps this could be part of a booktalk of award-winning audio books, with others from the ALSC Notable Recordings list.

Curriculum Ties
Roald Dahl deserves his own author study in a language arts unit. Activities might include a project in which students develop a wiki about this author, his narrative themes, characterization, and style.

Why this book?
Because everyone loves a book where the villains are justly rewarded! A favorite scene from this book is when Matilda puts super-glue on her father's hatband so that the hat gets absolutely stuck on his head. And when it is finally cut off, the hair is pulled off also!

ALSC Notable Recording, 1995. Matilda also appears on many statewide reading lists, according to NoveList K-8 Plus.

Rockport Public Library owns?

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