James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Posted February 14, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

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James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach

by Roald Dahl

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf on January 1, 1961
Genre: Classics, Fantasy, Magic, Magical Realism
Target Age Group: Childrens, Middle Grade

Rating: ★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

When James stumbles and drops the bag containing "tiny magical green things", he watches helplessly as all his lovely magic wriggles away into the earth underneath an old peach tree. Sadly he resigns himself to continued misery with his two wicked aunts . . . but then amazing things begin to happen.

 

While Roald Dahl was a staple of my childhood, I really don’t remember reading James and the Giant Peach.  I do remember the Tim Burton film, however, and that was a childhood staple along with the adaptations of Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  My copy of James and the Giant Peach is not a beloved childhood copy, but an edition I picked up at library book sale when I was in high school and treasured simply because Roald Dahl’s imagination was informative of my childhood reading.

This is all to day – I’m sure I read James and the Giant Peach as a youngling, but I simply don’t remember it.

Revisiting this book as an adult is… interesting.  It’s not charming like The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me or mortifyingly bad like Fantastic Mr. Fox.  This book is a bit longer than both of those and written for slightly older audiences.  There’s very little character development, but it retains the weird and fascinating edge of Dahl’s other work.  I’d say that James and the Giant Peach is a decent story, but I can see why childhood-me didn’t fall in love with it.

James is given a wonderful, magical gift by a creepy old man and while this plays against all the warnings parents give their kids, James is fictional and the glowing green things are an interesting temptation.  He’s an orphan, and his aunts are two stereotypical bullies, so you can’t particularly blame James for ignoring Stranger Danger and accepting a little magic, even when things don’t go according to plan.

At this point in the review, I think I’d just like to offer a blanket statement for any of Roald Dahl’s books.  These teach terrible lessons to children.  They are magical and delightful, but there’s a who lot of children running away with strangers and eating things they oughtn’t and breaking and entering, etc.  If you’re looking for any sort of wholesome children’s story, probably steer clear of Dahl.  That said, he had a fantastic imagination.

What follows the initial mishap with the boiled crocodile tongues / glowy green things is a transatlantic journey with unlikely companions.  There are always little mishaps to make the journey interesting, and we do get to learn a little about a few of the leveling companions – earthworms and centipedes and grasshoppers in particular.  Each bug riding the peach has its little moment, but no character (save maybe the Centipede and the Earthworm) are allowed any real character development… and I include James, our protagonist, in that statement.  James and the Giant Peach is more about the journey than the people journeying.

There are moments when characters break into verse as well, so if you enjoy poetry in your children’s chapter books, then you’ll enjoy this as well.  For myself, I don’t care for it.  In particular, it was used in James and the Giant Peach to review recent situations and served mostly as filler text, which was a bit blah to me.  I think that’s the best way for me to illustrate my feelings about this book – it was fine in general, but it wasn’t my favorite of his works and I’m no overly attached to it.

A note particular to my edition – I have a Puffin Classics edition that uses the original art by Nancy Ekholm Burkert.  While I can appreciate the skill of an artist, I have to admit that the drawings in this edition are creepy.  She doesn’t draw eyes… just black holes, making James appear a bit demonic?  I think it would have freaked me out when I was a kid.

Personally, I’m more a fan of his regular artist, Quentin Blake.  It’s a matter of personal preference, I suppose, but this art just seemed spooky.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★
Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★★
Writing: ★★★
Pacing: ★★★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★

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James and the Giant Peach will be donated

There are a few different reasons why I would choose to donate James and the Giant Peach.

First of all, like I said in the review above, I’m fairly lukewarm on this book.  Generally it’s fine, but it’s just not all that exciting and doesn’t have the childhood nostalgia factor that had me wanting to re-read it.

Next, this particular edition is not my cup of tea.  Both because the illustrations are a bit unsettling, and because the formatting is a bit odd.  There’s a blank page after every illustration and I don’t know why?

Finally, my edition isn’t in the best condition, so even if it was treasured, I’d be inclined to replace it.  The paperback feels like it was water damaged at some point (not by me), and it’s a copy I got second hand for just $0.25.  Actually for these reasons, I’m not even sure I can donate it back to the library, but I’m going to try.

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Do you think you’d be able to travel with a handful of (well behaved) oversize insects?  I honestly don’t know that I could – I’m not much for “creepy crawlies”.  I think the Centipede above all others would have me crawling right back out of the peach and staying with Spiker and Sponge!  What about you?  Let me know your take in the comments!

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