James and the Giant Peach
by Roald Dahl (1961)
A Sweet Spot selection.
Also available in Spanish.
Read to Them is 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, and then saved by the miraculous growth of a giant peach in his aunts’ front yard. 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. Together, 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 run through the novel, such as 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 Centipede (proud to be a pest!) to the understanding and sympathetic Miss Spider? Or, is it Dahl’s trademark playful prose ringing through James and the Giant Peach, from the first page to the last. Just a few examples:
The ocean from his aunt’s house – “…a long thin streak of blackish-blue, like a line of ink, beneath the rim of the sky.”
The surface of the peach – “It felt soft and warm and slightly furry, like the skin of a baby mouse. He moved a step closer and rubbed his cheek lightly against the soft skin.”
The peach’s arrival in 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 a delight to return to this book or to experience it for the very first time. Students will sympathize with forlorn, lonely James, trapped with his loathsome aunts. Readers will rise to the challenge of bringing to life the curious, not-very-childlike insects who befriend and rely on James inside the peach. And both will thrill at the journey to get that peach down that hill, into the ocean, up into the air, and finally to New York City. They will learn and share 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, including Read to Them favorites Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and The BFG.