James and the Giant Peach

written by Roald Dahl
illustrated by Quentin Blake

Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach
illustrated by Quentin Blake

Book review by Rosalyne Bowmile

Ages 9+

A wild adventure ride

James, a seven-year-old boy, lives with his two cantankerous aunts, Spiker and Sponge, his only living relatives. They share a small hill top cottage in the countryside, rarely entertaining visitors. Neither aunt is capable of nurture or kindness, both lacking the wherewithal to raise a child.

James works from morning to nightfall doing a monotony of chores, his servitude in constant demand. He’s forbidden to leave the property, attend school, or play with children his own age.

Escaping the brutal hand of his aunt, James flees to the edge of the garden. From the bushes steps a mysterious little old man offering him a small satchel. James is surprised, but peers inside the bag to see tiny glittering crystals no bigger than a grain of rice. The odd little man tells James of the magic contained in each of the crystals. All James must do is drink the crystals and he will forever be happy. The little man warns James to handle the crystals with care. If dropped, the magic will be absorbed wherever the crystals land.

James leaves the garden and hurries home when the unthinkable happens. Landing with a splat, he watches in disbelief as the crystals fly from his hand and burrow into the ground beneath the peach tree.

A single peach begins to grow, rapidly expanding in size reaching astronomical proportions almost as big as the house.

Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge take great pleasure in the anomaly of such a site, charging a fee for visitations. While the festivities take place outside, James must remain hidden indoors, banished to his room. Only in the evening, when all visitors have gone, is James permitted to go outside and complete his chores. Darkness descends and James finds himself alone, neglected and locked out of the house.

Curiosity draws him to the giant peach, where he discovers an opening in the soft flesh. James enters the peach and finds a doorway in the centre of the pit. Opening the door, he enters the stone, greeted by the waiting Grasshopper, Centipede, Ladybug, Spider and Glow-worm. Together they embark on a magical journey, which takes them over land and sea.

James and the Giant Peach is a modern-day Cinderella story with similar issues of abandonment and retribution. Throughout the book are snippets of rhymes and wonderful illustrations, all of which enhance the story.

As with many of Roald Dahl’s books, James and the Giant Peach is a story rich in morals and life lessons. Roald Dahl tackles difficult issues and brings forth justice using humour and wit. This is a wonderful, fanciful tale filled with adventure and whimsy, a timeless classic.

Quentin Blake is perhaps the most familiar illustrator of James and the Giant Peach. (A number of illustrators have tried their hand at the book.) Blake's whimsical black-and-white drawings pop off the pages. He has teamed together with Roald Dahl in many books, illustrating such titles as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and many more.

Quentin Blake covers, James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach has been banned in several American States for unfair reasons, one, for its “mystical elements.”

Sadly, book-banning still exists, censors taking a story out of context and spoiling it for many. Another example is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, which has received its share of censorship for “undermining religious beliefs.” In the Night Kitchen by the late Maurice Sendak, is another book to receive criticism and censorship for its “nudity.” How sad it would be if these books and others were no longer available because of misinterpretations.

The American Library Association holds annually a banned book week. They highlight banned titles and promote the message “freedom to read,” bringing to light the negative stigma of censorship.

I heartily recommend James and the Giant Peach.

Other titles by Roald Dahl:

More 20th century bestsellers.

Read more of Rosalyne's reviews.

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