Sarah Simpson Column: Diving into Dahl with my darlings

“Why don’t we pull out the Roald Dahl collection we got a couple years ago?”

Reading time in our house used to consist of the boys in one room reading mainly chapter books, and the girls in another, reading books aimed a much younger audience.

But ever since March, when the world kind of ground to a halt, we’ve taken to reading as a family.

The first book we all read together was a quirky My Little Pony chapter book that my daughter asked for. We got through it with little fanfare but the real prize was learning that the kids were capable of lounging on the same king-sized bed in our room and listening quietly. We knew with an even more captivating book we could really hook them and reel them into the wonderous world of reading.

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Now was our chance.

“Why don’t we pull out the Roald Dahl collection we got a couple years ago?” I suggested.

He agreed and out came our beautiful boxed set of 15 novels.

After some deliberation, we decided upon George’s Marvelous Medicine for our kids’ introductory Roald Dahl experience.

I always thought I wasn’t so bad at reading aloud, but according to the kids, their dad is better.

“He does voices, Mom,” they reasoned.

It worked just fine for me; I got to snuggle up with my babies while being read to by the best reader in the house.

It took about a week to read George’s Marvelous Medicine, with us getting through a couple chapters every night before the children fell asleep. The kids interrupted here and there to talk about what was happening or offer suggestions about what they thought was going to happen next. It was exactly as magical as reading should be. They were enraptured by George and his batty old grandmother and shocked at how poorly the duo treated each other. They were gleeful when old granny broke through the roof of the house and worried about how much trouble George was going to get in for stealing all the household supplies to make the “medicine”.

They were stunned at the ending. They never saw it coming. It was awesome. A great experience all around…

That is until my son tried to get his father to drink a concoction of vinegar, water, and hand soap. I wish I was kidding.

“What have we gotten ourselves into?” I asked my husband. Would they try to recreate every book? Lord help us if they did because Roald Dahl books tend to be…a bit over the top. (Also, as we learned while reading Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator together for our third Dahl book, he was a product of his time and some of the aspects of his books didn’t age well over time.)

The kids’ favourite book thus far was Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. They liked the trip to space and the nasty Vermicious Knids from the planet Vermes. They loved the rejuvenation pill “Wonka-vite” that turned two of the four grandparents into babies and made another vanish altogether. They loved the “Vita-Wonk” that reversed the first pill — but in one case to the extreme.

Right now we are early on into James and the Giant Peach. The jury is still out on that one.

The book that makes me smile the most, however, is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s been years since I read it, and even longer since it was read to me so it was like reading it for the first time through my childrens’ eyes.

You could see the wheels in their heads turning as they imagined what the inside of the chocolate factory looked like. You could feel the sincere worry they felt when the realized that Charlie and his family had no food. It was a real rollercoaster and I loved every minute of it.

When all was said and done we decided to give the kids their first ever book-to-movie experience. We watched the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

“That’s not how I imagined the chocolate room to look like!” said my disappointed son.

When Violet Beauregarde turned into a giant blueberry my daughter turned to us smiling, and calmly said:

“Number one: let’s stop watching this movie. Number two: let’s not watch this movie anymore.”

We should have vetted the movie first as there were scenes that were totally frightening to a four-year-old and we all agreed Johnny Depp was just creepy as Willy Wonka.

She snuggled up with her dad and we finished it. (We did watch a few minutes of Peppa Pig after to quell any nightmares and it totally worked.)

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The following morning the movie was all they could talk about so we decided to return to the television and watch the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder.

The lesson there was that different people can interpret the same book very differently and that’s why books are so cool.

“That’s still not how I imagined the chocolate room to look like!” said my disappointed son.

“Violet Beauregarde was way bigger in the other movie,” added my daughter, who was much less frightened by the original show.

We talked about both movies and what parts of each movie we liked over the other and how both compared to the book.

And then it happened. Exactly what we’d hoped for when we began our family reading time.

“I liked the book best,” said my son.

“Me too,” added his sister.

Sarah Simpson is a writer with the Cowichan Valley Citizen

ColumnistComedy and Humour

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