Rhyme Stew by Roald Dahl; ill. Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape, 1989) Lame poetry that, otherwise treated, could have become classic illustrated short stories. Dahl’s rhymes are too simplistic for grown-ups, yet too adult for young readers (the cover explicitly says so, though everything else about the book’s presentation screams ‘children’). A perplexing offering.
The Witches by Roald Dahl (Jonathan Cape, 1983); audiobook read by Miranda Richardson (Penguin, 2013) Scary and horrid and yet rather wondrous and fun, Roald Dahl’s take on witches remains a classic of middle grade fiction. Miranda Richardson’s audiobook reading is nicely pitched (notwithstanding her overly grating Grand High Witch and some oddly lacklustre, unnecessary sound effects).
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl; ill. Quentin Blake (Jonathan Cape, 1985) Roald Dahl is always imaginative but this must be his most delightful story, free from the dark themes so characteristic elsewhere. There is nothing here but crazy, cute, happy fun… and as ever the writing is perfectly paired with Quentin Blake’s illustrations.
The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl (Harper & Row, 1966); audiobook read by Roald Dahl (HarperCollins, 2002) Instructive though it is to hear Roald Dahl reading his own work, the fact remains that ‘The Magic Finger’ is a very slight, somewhat misnamed little story. A hunter receives his comeuppance overnight when he and his family are turned into ducks. …
The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl (Jonathan Cape, 1978); audiobook read by Stephen Fry (Puffin, 2013) A classic safe scare for young middle grade readers, the audiobook stripped of Quentin Blake’s illustrations but enhanced in compensation by Stephen Fry’s delivery (albeit that the background soundscape becomes tiresome, especially when signifying the crocodile’s trademark ‘secret plans and clever tricks’).
George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl (Jonathan Cape, 1981); audiobook read by Derek Jacobi (Penguin, 2013) Despite this being one of Dahl’s less substantial (yet somehow belaboured) stories, the freewheeling absurdity of George’s concoction and the subsequent karmic comeuppance to his grandma will appeal to middle grade readers. Derek Jacobi narrates with the glee of a mischievous grandparent.
Matilda by Roald Dahl (Jonathan Cape, 1988); audiobook read by Kate Winslet (Puffin, 2013) If Roald Dahl is one of the great middle grade writers, and Matilda one of his greatest books, then Kate Winslet takes us into the greatness stratosphere with her brilliant and definitive reading, making Matilda, Miss Honey and the Trunchbull truly unforgettable.
The BFG dir. Steven Spielberg (2016) Adapted faithfully from Roald Dahl’s classic, the BFG is perhaps more a nostalgia piece than a film to captivate those (neglected viewers) who be not having read the book. Amidst the cinematographic magic, the Big Friendly Giant’s infelicious, malaproposterous neologerising delights most.