Esio Trot by Roald Dahl

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Esio Trot by Roald Dahl

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Category: For Sharing
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Esio Trot has the traditional Dahl hallmarks of eccentricity, surrealism, and humour. It is also missing the more radical elements in Dahl's work for older children - the naughty adult, the abuse of power, the questioning of authority. As such, it makes a great introduction to the great man for children of six or seven and up. Buy this one first. Then buy The Twits. Then buy the rest. They will all be favourites.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 64 Date: April 2001
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 0141311339

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Y'know, I can remember Mrs Mendoza reading from Roald Dahl to the class just as though it were yesterday. I remember laughing. I remember all of us laughing. And I remember writing my own story. I called it Lucy and the Beggar! In it, I wanted my hair to grow as long as Rapunzel's hair. Mrs Mendoza was a great teacher. She was inspirational. And so was Roald Dahl. And so were his wonderful books.

Mr Hoppy lives in a flat in a tower block. It is a small flat and Mr Hoppy is a very shy, solitary man. Now that he has retired from his job and is spending a lot of time at home, he is often very lonely and the walls of his tiny abode feel as though they are closing in upon him. Luckily, his flat has a balcony and it is on the balcony where Mr Hoppy can indulge the two loves of his life. One of those loves is the growing of flowers and his balcony is full of tubs, pots, glorious scents and colours. If he leans over, Mr Hoppy can see into the balcony of the flat below. It is Mrs Silver's balcony and Mrs Silver is Mr Hoppy's second love. She is a widow and she lives alone. Many are the times Mr Hoppy has thought about inviting Mrs Silver up for a cup of tea, but he is just too shy and cannot pluck up the courage. Mrs Silver has a love of her own. Her love is Alfie, her pet tortoise. However, Mrs Silver worries about Alfie, for no matter what titbits with which she feeds him, he does not seem to grow. And one day, Alfie's growth handicap gives Mr Hoppy an idea...

... and it is then that the love story really begins.

As ever, with Roald Dahl, this is a story filled with fantasy and humour. Mr Hoppy is lonely and shy but he has hidden depths and resources, as have many others of Dahl's leading characters. And as ever too, the action is abrupt and often nonsensical. Dahl is the writer for children who answers all those "what if" questions they like to ask. What if the world fell over? What if my cat could speak? What if there are really people inside the television? You might think these are silly questions but to a child they are not. Mr Hoppy's startling logic is a child's startling logic. Mrs Silver loves Alfie and so what better way to Mrs Silver's heart than through Alfie? It all makes more sense when you are five, or six, or seven. Therefore, it makes perfect sense when you are five, or six, or seven, when Mr Hoppy writes a spell - in backwards writing - to make Alfie grow, just as Mrs Silver would like him to grow. And it makes perfect sense too, when you are five, or six, or seven, to see that Mr Hoppy cannot really make a spell that will work magic but he can make a trick that will work magic. To a child, magic is always there. It does not matter if the making of magic involves a real spell or a silly trick; the magic comes either way. And - in the most basic of ways - they are right, you know. Because the way to Mrs Silver's heart is through Alfie. Children understand that fantasy and reality are not opposites - but different ways of looking at the same thing. Mr Hoppy's plan is childlike but it is not childish. Childlike but not childish too, is the wonderfully abrupt ending to Esio Trot - the action is wrapped up in just a few lines.

Esio Trot - er... tortoise spelled backwards, you got that, right? - is one of the few books by Roald Dahl that remains free from the criticisms usually directed at his work. There is no corrupt adult. Nobody uses any violence. There is no abuse of anyone (including the tortoises). There is no dark side to this little book at all. It is a simple love story with a happy ending. It is also slightly surreal and very eccentric. Frankly, I have no time for those usual criticisms of Dahl. I think that to find an author who explores that friction between adult and child through humour and satire is a very valuable experience for all children. Children love the opportunity to laugh along with a book that conspires with them against adults - their natural enemy. Of course, adults are not really their natural enemy, but they are a regulating authority. It is natural and desirable that a child questions the framework within which they learn. Anyway, enough of all that. If you are the type of parent who dislikes this kind of satirical writing for children, then you will be safe with Esio Trot. It has all the "good" things about Dahl - humour, pathos, eccentricity, magic - with none of the "bad", so-called corrupting influences.

Esio Trot is very short - sixty or so pages. It is written in that flowing, rhythmic, repetitive style Dahl used in his stories for younger children and is perfect to read aloud to any child of perhaps four and above. The vocabulary is straightforward and simple but never patronising and the tone is friendly and inclusive. Beginning readers of seven or so could cope with it and yet it would not feel like a simplistic read for a child two or three years older. In the class or home-educating environment this story would be a perfect lead-in for more creative work - writing codes, spells, stories. The illustrations are by the inimitable Quentin Blake, Dahl's perfect partner in crime and perhaps the only man to have so completely absorbed Dahl's appeal to children that the pictures truly seem as though they are extensions of the words. There is a sweet author's note about tortoises and an hilarious exposition on the manufacture of a tortoise catcher. In fact, the more I type, the more I feel that this little book is a veritable cornucopia of wonders.

I cannot think of an author for children so bold, so funny, so naughty, so rude or so exhilarating as Roald Dahl. If you would like your child to be a reader and a writer, you could do no better than to start buying his books. Esio Trot would make a lovely start.

For another lovely book with a tortoise, check out Hurry Up and Slow Down by Layn Marlow.

Booklists.jpg Esio Trot by Roald Dahl is in the Top Ten Classics of Children's Literature.

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Magda said:

You know, I don't share these authoritarian criticisms of Dahl either, but there is something about most of his books that I dislike - a guey, gross, sticky gruesomness? I suspect it might be as simple as the fact that they often seem to contain the motif of eating people and I have a hangup about famines & real acts of caniballism.

And who would guess that I like Matilda the best :-)

Jill replied:

Well, get used to him, cos he's about the best you're going to get among the ranks of the "supporting readers" you get in the home-school reading programmes!

Magda said:

Oh, I like Dahl, it's just there is something about him that bothers me and it's not the bad adults & authority questioning.

joolzcook said:

My daughter is a BIG Dahl fan and loves this book as much as all the others. His writing has helped inspire her to want to be an author - and she is only 8!!

As an adult who reads these aloud to my children too, Dahl books are a delight to read!

ricki_13_pink said:

I loved this book, It was fuuny and I just did not want to put it down! Dahl is one of my favorite authors!