A "Buzzwangling," "Dahl-icious" Centennial

Looking for ways to celebrate the Roald Dahl centennial in September? Look no further.

 A Master Storyteller

“I is a nice and jumbly giant!” So states Roald Dahl’s BFG in the book of the same title (1982), but the words could easily be those of the author himself. Donald Sturrock, author of Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (S. & S., 2010) described his first impression of his subject as “…a gigantic figure in a long red cardigan…He was six foot five inches tall, craggy and broad of beam. His body seemed larger than the doorway and far, far too big for the proportions of the cottage.” This September 13, libraries, bookshops, teachers, and children all over the world will celebrate the inimitable storyteller’s 100th birthday. Though his parents hailed from Norway, Dahl was born in South Wales, the only male child in the family. His father died when he was young and his mother, Sofie, “a great teller of tales,” raised him. Honoring her husband’s wishes that their son be educated in English schools, “Boy” (which is how he signed his letters home) was sent to boarding school at the age of nine. Readers can learn about these early years in Dahl’s fanciful memoir, Boy (1984). boyIt’s easy to see how the author’s childhood experiences influenced his novels. One memorable character in that memoir was Mrs. Prachett, a “small, skinny old hag with a moustache on her upper lip and a mouth as sour as a green gooseberry” who ran the neighborhood sweet shop. But, “…by far the most loathsome thing about Mrs. Prachett was the filth that clung around her. Her apron was gray and greasy. Her blouse had bits of breakfast all over it, toast-crumbs and tea stains and splotches of dried egg-yolk…” The woman seems a likely inspiration for the eponymous characters of The Twits (1980), as well as for the Grand High Witch’s diabolical sweet shop plan in The Witches (1983), a book that also offers an appreciative nod to Dahl’s Norwegian grandmother. In More About Boy, the author notes that at boarding school, “Every now and again, a plain grey cardboard box was dished out to each boy in our House….Inside the box there were twelve bars of chocolate, all of different shapes, all with different fillings.…Eleven of these bars were new inventions from the factory…” Thanks to the market researchers at Cadbury who provided the students with candy all those years ago, readers can enjoy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964) today. A far less appetizing side of boarding school life involved fear. In More About Boy, Dahl also comments, “On the dormitory floor the Matron ruled supreme. This was her territory…even the eleven- and twelve-year-old boys were terrified of this female ogre, for she ruled with a rod of steel.” Surely, these fearsome matrons had something to do with the author’s portrayal of the Trunchbull in Matilda (1988). For more information on the author and his books, students and teachers can visit The Official Roald Dahl Website which offers archival photos, plot synopses, and character sketches along with video and sound clips, lesson plans, and a virtual tour of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre at his home in Great Missenden, a country village about 20 miles northwest of London. After reading, booktalking, and displaying Dahl titles, teachers and librarians will want to mark September 13 with a few book-themed events.

Celebrating the Centennial

big friendly doodle bookIn honor of the upcoming anniversary, Penguin has reissued Dahl’s children’s books along with The BFG's Gloriumptious Journal and The Big Friendly Doodle Book, an activity-filled title with excerpts from the chapter book followed by matching games, mazes, drawing and writing activities, stickers, and the Ultimate BFG Quiz (following on the heels of the release of the Disney/Spielberg movie). Librarians and educators can also register to download the “Roald Dahl 100 Gloriumptious PARTY PACK!”, which includes invitations, place mats, hat and decoration templates, coloring and activity sheets, and ideas for some Dahl-inspired merrymaking. One suggestion involving a plate of cooked spaghetti, gummi worms, a blindfold, and a timer challenges players to “See how many jelly worms you can get out of the plate of spaghetti in a minute!,” while a “Find Your Roald Dahl Name” chart invites youngsters to match their initials to a list of character traits and behaviors. Youngsters can also enjoy a game of “Pin the Newt on the Trunchbull.” Sweets feature throughout Dahl's tales; other book-inspired party ideas might include a giant chocolate birthday cake such as the one Bruce Bogtrotter was forced to single-handedly devour in Matilda—shared by all. Kids can wash it down with homemade frobscottle—raspberry seltzer with a touch of green food coloring—but be prepared for some unavoidable phizz-whizzing. Rifting on Willy Wonka and Charlie themes, teachers and librarians might hide five golden tickets on the bottom of cafeteria trays and grant the lucky winners free ice cream for a month of Fridays. Or, students can bring in their favorite candies or wrappers to create a candy bar collage, or take a poll of favorite sweets and type them into WORDLE to create a unique class candy poster. To celebrate Matilda, bring your class to the local library or have a spelling bee or team math challenge. Drink water or fruit punch with gummy frogs—in lieu of newts. A guest BFG on stilts, a week-long marathon of  read-alouds or movies during lunchtime or afterschool featuring Matilda, the Witches, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, and both Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, are all additional options. Screen from Roald Dahl's House of Twits

Screen from Roald Dahl's House of Twits

Create upside down pictures and dioramas in homage to The Twits and download the free app, Roald Dahl’s Twit or Miss  in which players use their fingers to deflect bits of food aimed at a sleeping Mrs. Twit, earning extra points if food particles land in Mr. Twit’s beard or cup. Also available is Roald Dahl’s House of Twits, a far more intricate game in which players gain access to different rooms and activities. One level involves painting the ceiling with glue; another feeding Mrs. Twit scrambled eggs, moldy cornflakes, bird droppings, monkey sick, and maggots until—it all comes back up. If this sounds a bit revolting, one only need remember Dahl’s assertion that “books that ‘irritated librarians’ generally entertained children.” Dahl’s titles can also inspire children throughout the academic year. Begin school with The BFG and a unit on dreams. Encourage students to record their dreams in a journal or write snippets of their own reveries on slips of paper. Mix the papers in a large jar and ask students choose two or three elements to create their own story. When it’s time for nonfiction reports, divide the class into small groups and assign each an insect from James and the Giant Peach—grasshopper, spider, ladybug, centipede, earthworm, silkworm, or glowworm. After researching the creatures, they can present illustrated nonfiction reports or poems about them. To add a hands-on element to the unit, students can create clay models of their assigned animals or create papier-mâché  peaches and paint them “rich buttery yellow with patches of brilliant pink and red.” Read The Witches prior to Halloween—use the Grand High Witch’s address in the ballroom to perform a readers’ theater skit. Have kids design “How to Recognize a Witch” posters, drawing and labeling the distinct Dahl witch characteristics—gloves to conceal fingerless claws and wigs to hide bald scalps; red, itchy rashes and large, curvy nostrils; and fiery pupils and blue teeth. The protagonist of Witches transforms from boy to rodent and narrates his story from a mouse’s point of view. Ask youngsters to choose an animal they would like to morph into, research it, and write a first person narrative about an adventure they might have. Finally, Dahl’s delightful language and rowdy verses can be enjoyed by children throughout the year. Encourage your students to plumb Susan Rennie's Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary (Oxford, Sept., 2016) to write a Dahl-inspired story or poem. Be sure to share excerpts from Dirty Beasts (1983) and Revolting Rhymes (1982) during National Poetry Month for a rollicking good time—remember, a Roald Dahl celebration should be silly, a bit naughty (lots of sweets!), and filled with fun!

Around Town

Baked in New York City’s raspberry jam cupcake with lavender buttercream (for Matilda’s friend Lavender, and topped with chocolate flakes from Miss Honey’s chocolate box). Photo courtesy of Wunderkind PR

Baked in New York City’s raspberry jam cupcake with lavender buttercream (for Matilda’s friend Lavender, and topped with chocolate flakes from Miss Honey’s chocolate box). Photo courtesy of Wunderkind PR

Outside the classroom, libraries, zoos, bakeries, and creameries have been inspired by the birthday to organize "buzzwangling" events and design "scrumdiddlyumptious" treats for the Wondercrump Weekend (September 16–18) and throughout the month of September.  Gardens and zoos in Memphis, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, DC, and NYC, will be hosting events from readings and screenings to performances and tastings (chocolate, of course). Meanwhile, a portion of the proceeds from the "Dahlicious Delights" created and sold in LA, Boston, Austin, Denver, NYC, Portland, OR, and other cities, will be donated to Partners in Health, an organization that brings health care to communities in 10 countries. (The organization was cofounded by Ophelia Dahl, Roald Dahl's daughter.) Twenty-four cities around the country are on the route of the high-energy Roald Dahl Splendiferous Showdown Bus Tour, which kicks off on September 10th at the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, MA. The Showdown, a live interactive game show inspired by Dahl's stories and presented by Story Pirates and Penguin Young Readers, will feature trivia, challenges, and an improv story that asks for audience participation. The tour will be visiting both schools and art centers including The Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center in Frederick, MD (Sept 17), and The Gorton Community Center in Lake Forest, IL, (Sept. 24). For a full list of events happening around the country, visit roalddahl.com/usa. Barbara Auerbach (aka the Phizz-Whizzing Humpy-Rumpy), is a librarian in the New York City Public Schools    

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