You simply can't talk about good quality children's literature without mentioning Roald Dahl. So many of us grew up on reading or listening to his words, and the next generation of kids are absolutely doing the same. As someone who has read most of his books though, here's my summary of my top 11 books by Dahl. (This is in no particular order - number 11 is my favourite!)
The book for children who love books! As an adult, the "super girl that defeats the evil adults" has started to become a bit too common, but Matilda (for me, at least) is the original and the best. Despite her intelligence and abilities, she still has a lot of child-like qualities often missing from similar stories. Not just a story for girls, but a great read-aloud for all ages.
2. The BFG
Speaking of read-aloud books, I've read this to my class three times over the years. Every time I swear I'll never do it. Dahl's love of made up words means that I end up in several embarrassing tongue twisters in front of some very giggly children. But despite evil children-guzzling giants, there's an innocence in the story that I go back to time and time again. (Not a huge fan of the movie though... which was devastating)
3. George's Marvellous Medicine
Another one full of giggles and silliness - a staple in my classroom (we all pretend to be very serious if the principal is walking past of course!). Unless you have any psychopathic children who despise their grandparents in your class, please PLEASE read this with your kids!
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
I'm not going to mention the Johnny Depp film adaptation, because Gene Wilder will always be Willy Wonka for me. This is one of the Dahl stories that I read as an adult and realise how very strange his mind must have been. Although it stimulates good discussion about vices such as greed and being a spoiled brat!
5. Danny, Champion of the World
I didn't read this as a kid, but instead as a book club with a few of my higher readers over the years. It's as dark as one would expect from a Dahl novel, and of a similar ability level as Matilda and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. Enjoyable, but not overly memorable.
6. James and the Giant Peach
I'm sure I thought this was perfectly normal when I read it as a child. I remember thinking the movie was a bit odd but nothing overly concerning. Then I read it as an adult to my class one year. Oh my goodness! My best explanation of this novel is that it's about a young boy who experiences a psychotic break after experiencing horrible abuse from his aunts. His imaginary world is both inviting and terrifying. But there's giant fruit and cool talking bugs. So there's that.
7. The Twits
Eating worms and revolting beards - surely this is what children's books should all be based on. And of course, this gem, “A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
8. The Witches
Confession - I once read the first chapter of this to my class and decided to put it down. I found it oddly terrifying.
9. Fantastic Mr. Fox
I loved this as a kid.... (I shouldn't have ever seen the movie, although if you like it that's fine!). I'd describe this as George Orwell's Animal Farm for kids. Who doesn't love a shifty but inventive fox, an alcoholic rat, and a bunch of grumpy mean white guys.
10. The Magic Finger
I think this was one I overlooked as a child. It's very short, but therefore accessible for students who don't have the stamina or ability to read some of his longer works. It's got a nice message, but isn't as dark and twisty and most of Dahl's books.
10. Esio Trot
I have a distinct memory of my dad reading this to me as a kid, it was one of our favourites. This certainly does not hold up to any sort of critical reading - Mr Hoppy is a creepy stalker who steals his neighbours pet tortoise to make him love her. BUT it's still a cute story about a tortoise.
11. The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
If I had to pick a favourite Roald Dahl book, this would be it. It's the most adorable thing, one of my favourite picture books. Read this with your kids, your class or just enjoy it yourself for something light and cheery!
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list of Dahl's work, just my top 11 (I tried for 10, and couldn't do it). I thought about adding links to each text, but we all know that these are available everywhere! All book stores, all school libraries, and all public libraries.