George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

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George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A classic Roald Dahl story in which an unpleasant adult gets their deserved comeuppance, George's Marvellous Medicine is a Bookbag favourite. Short enough for sharing and accessible enough for newly confident readers, it's absolutely perfect in every way.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: April 2001
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 0141311347

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A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

George's grandmother is a grizzly old grunion. George dreads being left alone with her when his mother goes shopping on a Saturday morning and if you knew his grandmother you really wouldn't blame him. She does nothing but criticise and get him into trouble by telling tales on him to his parents. Half the tales aren't even true. George lives miles from anywhere, on a farm, and he hasn't many other children to play with. This makes it even worse when it's Saturday morning and he's charged not only with being good but also looking after the horrid old lady who's always so nasty to him and even making sure that she gets her medicine on time. This is what George thinks:

"George couldn't help disliking Grandma. She was a selfish grumpy old woman. She had pale brown teeth and a small puckered up mouth like a dog's bottom."

Oh, she really is awful. To George, she's rather a witch.

At 11am sharp Grandma must have her medicine. It's a horrid, brown medicine that comes from a horrid, brown bottle, and, despite drinking a large tablespoon of it every day, to George it seems that it does Grandma no good whatsover. All the medicine means to George is that Grandma can accuse him of giving it to her at the wrong time, or from the wrong spoon, or some other petty and pointless complaint. It doesn't seem to make her a nicer, or better person at all. Suddenly, George has an idea. He'll make Grandma a medicine, a kind of kill or cure preparation, "one that is so strong and so fierce and so fantastic it will either cure her completely or blow off the top of her head". Into a huge, double-handled saucepan goes just about everything in the house that could possibly be used as a medicine - make up, toothpaste, paint, denture cleaner, hair remover and even the medicines for the animals on the farm including the one for the chickens which will, apparently, cure "FOUL PEST" and "COCKERELITIS" (sounds perfect for Grandma, eh?). Together with some heartfelt incantations George cooks up his mixture on the stove, cools it down, and waits for 11am sharp.

Heart in his mouth, almost trembling with a delicious thrill of fear and anticipation, and with the special silver tablespoon kept especially for her George gives Grandma his marvellous medicine. Almost immediately the effect is startling. In fact it's more than startling, it's tremendous, it's fantastic, it's simply amazing. Grandma shoots into the air and clouds of steam start coming from her. "Owee," she screams. After that she begins to grow, and grow, and grow, and grow... Grandma gets taller and thinner visibly. As she stretches her head crashes through the ceiling of the living room and into George's bedroom, then through that ceiling and into the attic, and finally and most fantastically of all Grandma's head crashes right through the roof of the house. George watches in wonder. He tries the medicine on a chicken in the farmyard and it grows as big as a cow. Then he tries it to similar effect with the pig, the bullocks, the sheep, the pony and the nanny goat. When Mr Kranky, George's father, comes home he goes wild with excitement. Greedily, and without a thought for Grandma, he can see a bright future of food for all from these giant animals, and fortunes and riches for the Kranky family. He can't wait for George to make some more of his marvellous medicine.

And to find out what happens to Grandma, the animals and George's Marvellous Medicines Numbers Two and Three, I suggest you get yourselves off to Amazon.

Why is it that Roald Dahl is so very popular with children? His books leave the libraries faster than anyone's, he has more entries in every compilation of top children's books than any other author. And yet he's also complained about more than most. Ah, but then it's the adults doing the complaining, isn't it? And what would they know? I suppose the smallest of his fans love Roald Dahl for his lavatorial humour. He likes bottoms and so do they. George's Marvellous Medicine is rude, it's funny, it's (to them) rather risque, and it's "got bottoms in it". Little children like bottoms and they also like fantastic language. When Grandma drinks the medicine and, like Topsy, "just growed",this is what she says:

"'ALL RIGHT?' she yelled. 'Who's ALL RIGHT? There's jacky-jumpers in my tummy! There's squigglers in my belly! There's bangers in my bottom!' She began bouncing up and down in the chair. Quite obviously she was not very comfortable."

I don't imagine she was very comfortable, do you? And I'll bet Grandma's screech has sent countless little boys leaping about the living room pretending to have jacky- jumpers, squigglers and bangers in various parts of their anatomy. I'm not entirely sure exactly what my children imagine a jacky-jumper to be, and it doesn't really matter, but I've watched them doing some death-defying leaps from the sofa while declaiming, "ARRGGHHHH!! Jacky-jumpers in my tummy!!" so I've the impression they're fairly fearsome things. Oh, but better still is George's reaction to his grandmother's distress:

"'You'll find it's doing you an awful lot of good, that medicine, Grandma,' George said."

And there, in a sublimely funny, swift kind of role reversal I reckon you might find the other part to the secret of Roald Dahl's popularity. Most of us have had a grizzly old grunion in our lives, haven't we? One of those mean and nasty adults, often in a position of power and responsibility, especially over a child - a relative, or teacher, or childminder perhaps, who isn't much of an advertisement for humanity. (I had Mrs Nolan, don't ask). Not everyone uses their authority fairly or nicely. And Dahl knew that. He also knew that much as they love humour, as they learn to know what it is, children also love justice. George's grandmother is a nasty old woman who uses her position to make George feel small and miserable for no good reason at all. She richly deserves her comeuppance, children know that, and if we're honest, so do we adults. The abuse of authority is A Bad Thing. So Grandma is lampooned, made into an hilarious but gruesome caricature, insulted in the best possible way, the "bottom" way and she gets her just deserts. It's not serious - what happens to Grandma is clear fantasy, it's a naughty, good versus evil fairy tale if you like - but the point is serious and I think it's one children grasp very quickly.

Of course, I could be completely wrong - Roald Dahl is an author who appeals so timelessly and so directly to children he's not really one for analysing. He's theirs, not ours, and that's as it should be. What do we know, anyway?

Anne Fine's How To Write Really Badly would also suit newly confident readers who like a little humour in their books.

Booklists.jpg George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl is in the Top Ten Books With Gorgeous Illustrations.

Booklists.jpg George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl is in the Top Ten Books For Children Who Think That Farts Are Funny.

Booklists.jpg George's Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl is in the Most Read Reviews On Bookbag.

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Ruth Price said:

I very much enjoyed this review but thought I ought to point out that a "jacky-jumper" is a name I remember from childhood as the name of a firework. I quote from The Online Dictionary of Playground Slang:

jacky-jumper n. a string of small explosive firewords created by packing a small amount of gunpowder into a long tube of brown paper along with a thin fuse. The paper is then "pinched" and folded such that it looks something like a series of attached z's. The effect is that when the fuse is lit the first part explodes sending the firework in an unpredictable direction. The fuse continues to burn exploding each section of the firework in turn. Throwing a lit jacky- jumper into a crowd of kids was always good for a laugh... unless they (or an adult) caught you.

Now, I just assumed that the term jacky-jumper was universal for fireworks (like banger), but it seems it's Welsh slang. And where was Roald Dahl born and brought up? Why, Cardiff. I rest my case. Squigglers sound a bit firework-y, too, I reckon.

(My sometimes-better half, brought up in much more Welshy-Wales - Llanelli - recalls some children calling them siaci-siwmpers (said shacky shoomperrs - no J in Welsh) - there's Welshification for 'ew, isn't it?)

Jill said:

Ooh! Aha, I should have known that. Maternal grandmother from the Rhondda, maternal grandfather from Swansea!