It’s Roald Dahl’s birthday! He may be gone, but the darkest children’s author in Western history left behind a long list of beloved, nightmare-inspiring, heartwarming works.
In honour of the man who once faked acute appendicitis to get out of school, we’ve created a list of his top ten books – in order. Complaints can be directed to our Facebook page.
1. James and the Giant Peach.
The classic of children’s classics. It’s got mean aunts, it’s got healthy eating, it’s got air travel, it’s got a boy trapped in a giant peach with a giant centipede – there’s something for everyone. James is a young boy who climbs inside a peach that’s grown to the size of a house, along with all the insects near it at the time. These bugs can speak English, and they all become fast friends as the giant peach navigates stormy skies and deep oceans.
2. Danny, the Champion of the World
This sweet tale of a kid who sets out to ruin pheasant-hunting for business magnates will inspire a love of the English countryside in any young reader. When Danny’s Dad breaks his ankle poaching pheasants from the snotty Mr Hazell, the two plot to ruin his annual pheasant hunt. Full of tips for sneaking around at night and lots of pheasant-freeing, this story challenges kids to break the law for good, not evil.
3. The BFG
The Big Friendly Giant is kind of a runt in his world. In ours, though, he is a massive monster who imparts dreams and nightmares to sleeping children. When little orphan Sophie spies him, he takes her back home so no-one will find out giants are real. Oh, and these giants eat people. The BFG has to hide Sophie from massive jerks like the Fleshlumpeater, and the two must convince the British Government to imprison the bad giants. A fantastic lesson in the benefits of betraying your kind.
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
An impoverished child and his decrepit grandfather are teased by confectionary billionaire and known slave-owner Willy Wonka. They get off lightly though, as he murders all the other children who visit the chocolate factory. When Charlie wins a ticket to see inside Wonka’s chocolate factory, he learns the candyman has more in store than just a tour…
5. The Landlord
It’s a short story, not a book – but it has twice the horror of any other Dahl book. Young Bill travels to Bath and checks in at a quaint B&B, run by a sweet old lady. Where are all the other guests? Dahl wrote this to be a ghost story, but later changed the twist to be non-supernatural – this makes it all much creepier. Do not read at night.
6. Boy: Tales of Childhood
This is an autobiography of Dahl’s strange childhood, covering his birth up to the moment he left school. His father loses an arm, Roald loses his nose, and his brother loses an appendix. Through the tragedy that weaves through young Roald’s life shines a mischievous and naturally joyful child, and some obvious sources of inspiration for his later life: confectionary stores, mice, and schoolyard toffs are just a few things that pop up in the author’s later work.
7. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Our favourite sociopath Willy Wonka goes to space, fights aliens, and then crash-lands on Charlie’s grandparents. The duo kill Grandma Georgina by making her minus two years old. Will they get her back? Will the President ever acknowledge how they saved Earth from Vermicious Knids? Find out now!
8. The Witches
This book stars a young boy so friendless that he isn’t bothered by being permanently turned into a mouse. After his parents die, he moves in with his Norwegian grandmother, who is a retired witch hunter. The two of them accidentally stumble across the national witch meeting and must stop their dastardly plan to kill all of England’s children. A great read, and the film of the same name is also wonderful.
9. The Fantastic Mr Fox
The eponymous Mr Fox is a smart man, dedicated to fooling three mean farmers out of livestock to feed his family. When the farmers have had enough of the foxy shenanigans, they surround the entry to the Fox family’s home and wait for them to come out – so they can kill them all. Obviously, Mr Fox must set up an entire underground society to cater for all the creatures in the neighbourhood. Great for kids who’ll go on to study Political Philosophy.
10. Esio Trot
This is the tale of two elderly people who fall in love through animal fraud. Mr Hoppy, a shy old man, has been in love with his neighbour Mrs Silver for many years. Mrs Silver wants only one thing in the world – for her tortoise, Alfie, to grow bigger. Mr Hoppy gives her a spell to cast over the tortoise, and then spends months swapping out the tortoise for a slightly bigger one each night until Mrs Silver is happy enough for Mr Hoppy to propose to her. A simple tale, but a sweet one. Never give up on love, and remember that animals are completely interchangeable.