James and the Giant Peach
By Roald Dahl (1961)
By popular demand! And not a moment too soon. We are proud to feature Roald Dahl’s very first chapter book for children – James and the Giant Peach.
Return, if you will, to where the magic and mystery and (yes) the macabre all started. The story of a boy abruptly orphaned, sentenced to live with two cartoonishly horrible aunts – who is saved by the miraculous growth of a Giant Peach in his (aunts’) front yard. When James meets the similarly miraculous creatures who inhabit the Peach – the Earthworm and the Centipede, Miss Spider and the Ladybug, both a Silkworm and a Glow-Worm, and the grandfatherly Old Green-Grasshopper – an unexpected and grace-saving adventure ensues.
It’s hard to say what is the most winning feature of James and the Giant Peach. Is it the imaginative adventures that ensue – when the Peach is saved from peach-eating sharks by an ingeniously corralled flotilla of seagulls? Is it James’s friends in the Peach – from the wise-cracking Caterpillar (proud to be a pest!) to the understanding and sympathetic Miss Spider? For my part, it’s Dahl’s trademark, elegant, glinting, playful prose – which rings through nearly every line of James and the Giant Peach from first page to last.
The ocean from his Aunt’s house? “…a long thin streak of blackish-blue, like a line of ink, along the rim of the sky.”
The magic crystals that enlarge the Peach (and its eventual occupants)? “James stared into the bag, and sure enough there was a faint rustling sound coming up from inside it, and then he noticed that all the thousands of little green things were slowly, very very slowly stirring about and moving over each other as though they were alive.”
What does the outside of the Peach feel like? “It felt soft and warm and furry, like the skin of a baby mouse. He moved a step closer and rubbed his cheek lightly against the soft skin.”
What’s it like when you’re the only one left with a Peach-saving idea? “Their eyes waited upon him, tense, anxious, pathetically hopeful.”
How does the Peach make it to America? “There was a squelch. The needle went in deep. And suddenly – there was the Giant Peach, caught and spiked upon the very pinnacle of the Empire State Building.”
What joy and delight to return to this book from a long distance – and share it with children for the first time. To sympathize with poor, forlorn, lonely James. To empathize with James’ loathing of his horrible Aunts (secretly knowing what’s in store for them!). To bring to life and distinguish the curious, not-very-childlike insects who befriend James and rely on him in the Peach. (Admittedly a tall task – all readers should be warned to get their voice distinguishers ready before going inside that Peach.) To get that Peach down that hill and into that ocean and up into the air and finally to New York City. To learn and share and depend on the confidence and wisdom James gains from his unexpected adventure.
James and the Giant Peach remains exactly what it’s been for over 50 years (and counting) – the perfect entrée into Roald Dahl’s imagination and prose – and to the rest of his still-loved corpus – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The BFG, and The Witches.