Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

By Roald Dahl (1964)

What student, what family, what school won’t look forward to reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

It’s probably Roald Dahl’s most popular book. Written in 1964, it’s already sparked two film adaptations.

It used to be that Read to Them shied away from books whose film adaptations had dominated the public’s mind. After all, we’re trying to promote a culture of literacy. But we’ve discovered that that’s not the way that One School, One Book works. Even if a child has seen one of the film adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; even if they haven’t (yet) read the book – children and students and families still enjoy sharing a classic children’s novel like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For those students, too, the text itself will be a discovery. Roald Dahl’s prose will be a discovery. The way he tells the story will present as novel and charming. The joys and charms of the novel as prose paradise will become the new story. No longer Johnny Depp or Gene Wilder – but Roald Dahl.

Why is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still compelling many decades later?

Charlie’s not an orphan. But he is poor. Dickensian poor. Four grandparents poor. Charlie is humble and polite and unselfish. He’s almost too perfect, but children empathize with him anyway because his situation is so cartoonishly bad.

More than that – student readers/listeners really want in that factory – as badly as Charlie. Thus the magic of the Golden Ticket. The one unattainable thing we all want – that can promise a window or key (or ticket!) into imagined paradise – a paradise even more compelling because at first (as readers) we know so little about it.

Roald Dahl strings out the search for the Golden Ticket – all while keeping Willy Wonka and his Factory and his employees an ever growing secret.

But finally we do get in. And everything changes. We get Dahl’s whimsical, colorful, flavorful descriptions. His charm and wit. We get surprises. We get four truly awful child protagonists. So awful they have provided object lessons in how not to act for three generations. We get Oompa Loompas. And we get candy. And not just candy! We get gum. We get dinner. We get the realms of Roald Dahl’s imagination.

Once in the Factory, Dahl’s prose strengths really run free. His redolent descriptions of roasting coffee and burnt sugar and melting chocolate and crushed hazelnuts and…and so forth. We want in. And we wish we could stay in. And children want in – and to stay in – even more.

That’s why Charlie still charms. With a classic, well-known novel and two movies to choose from – children still want in. And families – through One School, One Book – get to share. Families can be chocolate voyeurs together. Families can remind each other and reinforce not to act like Augustus (greedy) or Veruca (spoiled) or Violet (selfish) or Mike TV (vapid). Instead, they can act like Willy Wonka (whimsical, creative). Or Charlie (the humble hero).

And then they can read more Roald Dahl together. That’s the way One School, One Book works.