Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl Cover

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl was May’s pick for Book Hoarders Anonymous, an online book group hosted by Alison of The Cheap Reader.

In case you’ve never read this or seen the movie, here’s a quick summary.  Charlie Bucket is a young boy whose family is very, very poor.  He lives in a town that has a fantastically large chocolate factory owned by the reclusive Willy Wonka.  Wonka announces one day that in five of his chocolate bars there will be a golden ticket which will entitle the winner to tour the factory and to receive a lifetime supply of Wonka’s sweets.  By a random stroke of luck, Charlie is one of the five children to find a golden ticket.  The other children are all badly-behaved, ranging from being gluttonous to avaricious to slothful.  On the factory tour, Wonka doesn’t tolerate their naughtiness and they are all punished appropriately.  Good, pure-hearted Charlie, however, behaves perfectly well and wins the big prize Wonka has reserved for him.

I was a huge Roald Dahl fan when I was a kid, so I was interested to see what I thought of him as an adult.  I have to say I’m a little disappointed.  While this is a well-written children’s book and one I could see being a lot of fun to read aloud to a child, I did not enjoy it as the fun, cute read I had expected.  Instead this book felt intensely serious and grumpy to me.

I had a discussion with my husband (who may have just been relying on his movie knowledge) about this book and he pointed out some important things to me.  I complained about how much I hated everyone in this book for being so one-dimensional and predictable (pure-hearted and poor?  rich and spoiled?) and he argued that the characters are archetypes, with all the bad children representing the deadly sins.  Oh.  Huh.  He’s right.  And then I was about to tear my hair out reading about the Oompa Loompas being taken from their homeland and forced into what amounts to slave labor for Wonka.  It smacked of colonialism to me.  Husband said “Yeah, Elizabeth, that’s Dahl’s point.”  Oh.  Huh.  He’s right.

I suppose you can read this as a fun little moralistic tale that involves descriptions of sweets and funny punishments.  Or you can read this as a dark tale about the dangers of overindulgence with the added bonus of some anti-colonialism.  And while I can appreciate that Dahl disguised a deep, somewhat protest-y story as a fantastical kid’s book, I still can’t say I had fun reading it.  It was a fairly quick and painless dose of intellectualizing, but even candy-coated, it was pretty glum.  Sorry to say that this was just not my cup of molten chocolate!

Be sure to check out Alison’s review for links to other BHA members’ thoughts!

A Wrinkle in Time- Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time bantam cover

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was April’s pick for Book Hoarders Anonymous, an online book group hosted by Alison of The Cheap Reader.

This book is such a classic.  I read it once as a kid and remember loving it, although science fiction was never really my thing. A Wrinkle in Time follows Meg, her frighteningly smart kid brother, Charles Wallace, and genius basketball star Calvin as they travel through space and time with the guidance of three “witches” on a journey to return Meg’s father back home.

  • I love Meg.  She is uncomfortable in her own skin and has a very hard time at school, but she is clearly quite intelligent and fiercely protective of those she loves.  She is also flawed, but in the end she comes to realize that these flaws are not always such terrible detriments.  Plus she is a girl who is good at math.  I love a character who defies stereotypes!
  • I also love Charles Wallace.  The kid is creepy smart and has some sort of mind-reading abilities.  But he is a fun character as such a self-assured, sickeningly smart five-year old.
  • There is remarkable beauty in the some of the worlds that L’Engle creates, but there is also pure evil in them, too.  And then, there is the ambiguity of Earth.  It is kind of a fun ride to see the imaginative worlds Meg, Charles, and Calvin get to visit.
  • There are some great themes in this book– the power of love and the coming of age, particularly grappling with the knowledge that your parents are not infallible.
  • There is one scene in this book that has stuck in my memory for years.  The kids land in Camazotz, the town/planet where their father is trapped and the first thing they notice is a bunch of small kids in front of the houses bouncing balls simultaneously.  I had forgotten what book this scene was from, but I always think of it when I read about strict conformist societies.
  • This book is often remarked upon because there are some pretty complicated (but disguised as friendly and easy to understand!) science concepts in here.  It’s like candy-coated physics or something because I sort of understood time travel there for a minute.

All in all, this is a fun, short, beautiful book.  If you’ve never given it a try and like science fiction, I’d highly recommend you read it or share it with your middle schoolers.  It is a classic kid’s book for a reason!

Anne of Green Gables- L.M. Montgomery

This is one of those books that I never would have read as an adult without the encouragement of the book blogging world.  I read this along with Book Hoarders Anonymous, an online book club hosted by The Cheap Reader.  I have to say, I am really glad I read along.  We are reading A Wrinkle in Time next month, so if you haven’t read it and need a little prodding or just want to reread it along with some others in a very low pressure environment… join us!

Anne Shirley is probably my new favorite book character of all times.  She is an optimistic, imaginative dreamer.  She has moments of impulsiveness that are all too relatable.  She tries so hard to be good, but things often go awry for her.  She is smart and stubborn.  She loves easily.  Everyone around her loves her and is a better person for knowing her.  There was a foreword in my copy of the book that described Anne as coming off the pages and that is exactly true.  I think Montgomery had a flair for creating really wonderful characters.

Which brings me to Anne’s adoptive guardians, the elderly Cuthbert siblings, Matthew and Marilla.  Matthew is an awkward, shy man who is instantly charmed by Anne.  He is inclined to spoil her and often slyly intervenes in her bringing up.  Marilla is a serious, rather uptight spinster who is changed by her relationship with Anne.  She softens some, reclaims her buried sense of humor and imagination, and learns to love someone unguardedly.  I loved Marilla almost as much as I loved Anne.  It was tough to see her struggle with expressing her love for Anne, but in the end that seems to work itself out.

This is one of those books that isn’t really plot-driven, but is more like a series of anecdotes or stories that help construct a character.  In that sense it reminded me of The Virginian, which is the only other novel I think I’ve read from the early 1900s.  I think that may have been in vogue for novels at the time.  It can be hard for me to stay engaged with a story of this structure, especially since I am accustomed to novels these days, which tend to be more plot-driven and less character-focused.  But sometimes it is rewarding to step outside your comfort zone and Anne of Green Gables was totally worth it.