Fantastic Mr Dahl by Michael Rosen
|Fantastic Mr Dahl by Michael Rosen
|Category: Children's Non-Fiction
|Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
|Summary: Poet, author and former Children's Laureate Michael Rosen shares his insights into the life of Roald Dahl and the influences on his work in a clear, easy-to-read and intriguing book which both adults and children will enjoy.
|Date: September 2012
|External links: Author's website
Reading this book is rather like curling up in a deep, squishy armchair with a cup of cocoa and some squashed-fly biscuits while a favourite uncle chats to you about books. He tells you interesting things about Roald Dahl's life, and then he discusses how those events may have affected his writing, secure in the knowledge that you already know and love the stories. Just as important, he pauses in his chat from time to time to ask your opinion — and it's clear he's really interested in your answer. Do you prefer the original version of James and the Giant Peach, or the one which was eventually published? Can you imagine how funny it would be to see your grandfather looking in through your bedroom window, like the BFG?
People often link the names of Michael Rosen and Roald Dahl, and not just because they've both had their books illustrated by the wonderful Quentin Blake. They both see clearly that making children laugh is a sure-fire way to help them learn, and they share the ability to remember what it feels like to be young. Before the terrible strait-jacket of exams and careers and pimples, life is a brimming bowl of possibilities, full of fantasy and silliness and the rule of what-if. Anything can happen, if you only imagine it, words are funny and magical and sometimes even rude (if you doubt this, go and stand in a primary school playground, and really listen!) and at the end of the day, only the bad get punished. After all, that's only fair.
Roald Dahl's family was Norwegian, and he was fluent in both languages. Like many bilingual children, however, he was not especially good at spelling which will comfort those of his readers who struggle with such mysteries as the I before E except after C rule. Copies of several of the letters he wrote to his mother while at boarding school are reproduced in the book, and you can see already, despite the occasional failed attempt to select the correct vowel, his intense pleasure in words which exaggerate, dramatize and overstate for effect. Michael Rosen is a poet as well as a story-teller, and in him too the delight in funny-sounding words, real or created, is evident.
To add to Mr Rosen's credentials as the best possible person to write this book is the fact that they occasionally met. Roald Dahl only died in 1990, and they were more than once present at the same book festival or interview. In fact, the book opens with a delightful scene where the older man talks to Joe Rosen, pointing out that his father's beard probably contains bits from all his recent meals, and maybe even a bicycle wheel. The young lad, only about five years old at the time, is understandably rather overcome by this immensely tall man with the booming voice who has no hesitation in saying weird and fantastical things about his father as if they were true.
Any young person who enjoys Roald Dahl will love this book. It is written simply, with lots of interesting photos and drawings, and there is a clear chronological structure to make it easy to follow. But for all that it contains lots of things to help the reader think, and to make up their own mind about things, along with a generous dollop of whimsy. It deserves to be read aloud, at home or in class, and any library that doesn't stock it will be doing its readers a disservice. Knowing more about the funny, extravagant self-assured man who created James, Charlie, Matilda and, of course, Mr Fox will encourage readers to return to Roald Dahl's books and seek out any they haven't yet read — and praise doesn't come higher than that.
Readers will also enjoy Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl, in which the author talks about his childhood. And if you want to read one of his stories, Bookbag has a particularly soft spot for George's Marvellous Medicine. We've another soft spot for anything witten by Michael Rosen.
You can read more book reviews or buy Fantastic Mr Dahl by Michael Rosen at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Fantastic Mr Dahl by Michael Rosen at Amazon.com.
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