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A Reader of Fictions: Review: James and the Giant Peach

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Review: James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach

Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
Pages: 160
Publisher: Puffin
Source: Own

Description from Goodreads:
It's the 50th anniversary of James and the Giant Peach! Come celebrate and join James Trotter and his friends - Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider - on an adventure inside a giant magical peach.

First Sentence: "Until he was four years old, James Henry Trotter had a happy life."

Oh, childhood, Roald Dahl takes me right back. I will always love Roald Dahl's work, because of how much these books meant to me as a kid, not that they're not fun now, of course, but the experience really is not quite the same. Unlike with a lot of my childhood reads, dimmed to hazy memories, I have a strong recollection of my first time reading James and the Giant Peach. Much as I loved Roald Dahl (personal favorites being the BFG, The Witches, Boy, and Matilda), I dreaded reading this book, popular as it was. In my younger years, completely different from now, I was a picky reader, wandering shelves, unsure what to read. Thus when an author tickled my fancy, I embarked on all of their books that I could get my hands on. As such, eventually the time came when I had to cave and read James and the Giant Peach.

"But Christina," you might ask, "why did you not want to read this children's classic, much beloved by many you knew and by one of your favorite authors?" Well, my dear friends, the answer is simple. All my life, I have had a phobia of just about every kind of bug. My childhood self read that synopsis and looked at that cover and thought whatever the childhood equivalent of OH HELL TO THE NO was, which, I suppose, would be something in the vein of YOU CAN'T MAKE ME. Though precisely who would be trying to force me I have no idea, as my parents let me choose my own reading material.

To try to keep what has already morphed into a rather long story from becoming a tome of giant peach proportions, I caved and read it, and, as ever, Roald Dahl charmed me utterly, perhaps more than usual because he won me over in spite of my stubborn, childish desire NOT to like the book. Ever since then, I've remembered James and the Giant Peach as a favorite. Rereading a book that meant so much to you as a tiny tot is always a treacherous prospect, because, sometimes, you discover that the book that so impacted you has all of the wit and charm of Mr. Collins.

Of course, with Roald Dahl, you're pretty safe. In my case, I found that I could not enjoy this one nearly so much as an adult, but that I could still bask in the glow of Roald Dahl's boundless imagination. Seriously, that man was a freaking international treasure. How in the world did he come up with that? How did that brainstorming session go? "Mmm, this peach is delicious. Rather large. I wish I could live in a peach with my insect and arachnid friends..." The whole story runs with the absurd, making an art of it. This book would be a perfect transition to chapter books for kids who best love Dr. Seuss' wordplay and silliness.

As an adult, I just found myself unable to lose myself in the magic of the tale the way I did as a child. I kept trying to impose logic where there was never meant to be any. Admittedly, some of the absurdities, like James' parents having been eaten by an escaped rhinoceros from the zoo, are quite humorous. Others, such as how the giant peach came into existence or the fact that sea gulls carried that peach across the Atlantic Ocean without stopping, my grown up brain could not just accept.

The fact that Dahl wrote in an earlier time is very apparent in the peach's origin. James is just sitting around outside moping, when this weird man approaches him and offers him a bunch of squirmy little bright green things. He tells James to eat them so that something magical can happen to him. In the modern world, if a stranger gives you something weird like that, you better get to running and hollering your fool head off. Thankfully, James is a klutz and drops all of the green things, thus saving us from finding out what would have happened to him.

Making the main characters James and a bunch of bugs now capable of rational thought was a clever way of allowing the child to shine. James, while exceedingly young, gets to be the problem solver, because, little life experience as he possesses, he knows more about the world than the insects do, aside from some biology lessons.

Something that I entirely did not recall about this book was how much poetry Dahl wove into the story. Every few chapters, someone sings a song or uses a poem to express themselves. The songs made sense to me, but exposition as poetry did not, though I'm sure as a kid it's the best. At the end, James addresses all of the mucky mucks in America, all freaking out because the peach just landed King Kong style on the top of the Empire State Building, and calms them by introducing his friends in a poem. Sadly, this may be more efficient and logical than how governments actually function. Children will delight in these, I have no doubt, but I'm very picky about poetry.

In all, James and the Giant Peach certainly did not impress me as much now, and I suspect that, for me at least, it's not his best. Still, he has imagination and humor like no other, and I imagine I will revisit this one again someday.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote: "The peach rolled on. And behind it, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker lay ironed out upon the grass as flat and thin and lifeless as a couple of paper dolls cut out of a picture book."

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Blogger Bekka said...

I'm sorry to see it wasn't as magical this time around. This happens to me a lot, particularly when reading books I loved in middle school. By that time I was reading 'YA' for then, which was mostly propagandized messages masquerading as books but whatever.

I've never read James and the Giant Peach, but I did see the movie when I was younger and I remember loving it, though I don't remember much of the story itself. I've been thinking about reading Dahl but I'm not sure when I'll get to it. Can you believe I've never read a single book of his?

December 1, 2012 at 2:48 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

This was my favorite book when I was a kid. I need to re-read it now, and see if my feelings have changed now that I'm old. I'm picky about poetry, as well so that make throw me a little. Love that you reviewed this book, though! So cool!

December 1, 2012 at 9:09 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

YES! A book I read...so I can read ALL of your review. Yay me.

James and the Giant Peach was never my favorite Dahl book..in fact I figure it might fall on my list as one of my least favorites. As a kid, I just didn't care for the insect characters (I really only remember the grasshopper with the top hat,) and I didn't even have a fear of insects. I must have read it at least twice as a kid and I remember thinking "oh gosh, when are we going to get off this stupid peach...blah blah blah."

I am used to Dahl's stuff being unrealistic, but they usually had a magical, wondrous quality to it like mixing weird concoctions to kill your grandmother (I don't agree with that...but the grandma WAS evil.) But I didn't care for a giant peach. Gigantic peach...big deal. And I felt like the whole adventure was just random. Even as a kid, I never knew the purpose behind it.

I agree with Dahl's imagination. I've been hunting for a children's author that has the same imagination, funky assertive characters, and humorous charm for 19 years...haven't found one yet. Maybe I'm not looking hard enough.

Lilian @ A Novel Toybox

December 2, 2012 at 12:30 AM  
Blogger April (BooksandWine) said...

Oh, I hate when that happens when a book doesn't contain quite the same magic it did as a child. That stated, I do think a few of Dahl's books still work as an adult -- namely Matilda and The BFG, I will always find those books charming as hell no matter how old I am.

Also. Your long story cracks me up. Dude, bugs are gross and scary.

December 2, 2012 at 9:27 AM  
Blogger Estelle said...

This was never one of my favorite Dahl books but I did enjoy it quite a bit. I'm going to have to give it a re-read. I haven't been disappointed by too many of my childhood favorites when I re-read them but I'm interested in seeing how I feel about this one.

I did read the sequel to Charlie + the Chocolate Factory last year and I was totally disinterested. Boo. And The Witches (which I loved) freaked me out. It's a pretty dark story.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. It's nice to see someone paying attention to the classics!

December 2, 2012 at 4:23 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh man, I didn't read much YA when I was a teen, mostly just Meg Cabot and Ann Brashares, but I did read and love a lot of terrible stuff as a kid. I transitioned from kid's books to classics mostly.

I remember loving the movie too. It must have added some plot.

You should totally read some Roald Dahl!

December 3, 2012 at 10:53 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Ha, the poetry was so strange, but I hope you still enjoy it now!

December 4, 2012 at 8:08 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Wow, has this never happened before? O_O Maybe I need to read more children's books. Haha.

Bahaha, well, you were a smarter kid or a grumpier one or something. I don't know.

To be fair, he did sort of mix up a magic concoction to kill his aunts. They totes both got powned by the peach.

The only book I could compare is The Phantom Tollbooth, which is actually even better. Oh, that wordplay, I revel in it. REVEL, I SAY.

December 4, 2012 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Right? Tragic! I suspect that to be the case, and will still be buying any Roald Dahl I find in good condition at Goodwill, because of course I will.


December 4, 2012 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

You know, I'm not sure if I've ever actually read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I guess I must have, but I don't specifically remember it. I want to read that one as well.

I TRY to pay attention to all the things, but there are so many books out there!

December 4, 2012 at 8:30 AM  
Blogger Lilian said...

You read too fast. Or I am a step behind because reading your reviews convince me to read a certain book. Or at least your book hauls do. *points to shiny Mystic City I saw in your book haul...which was enough to make me stalk the library for it*

I was a pretty stupid kid, so I think it's just be being bored of giant peaches with A BUNCH OF GIGANTIC INSECTS IN IT. (I believed my cousins when they told me the watermelon seed I ate will grow into a tree on top of my head. I worried about not being able to hide a tree on top of my head for like a week.)

But a gigantic peach isn't fun. Unlike Mr. Wonka's candies.
I am craving a juicy peach now.

Every time you say revel, I am reminded of that Girl who something something something and Brought the Revels there book. Then I want to have the excuse to say revel. (I don't think I've EVER used it in conversation. And I suspect all my friends would be, "oh gosh, Lilian is being a showoff." if I did use it." So..STOP SHOWING OFF YOUR VOCABULARY.

I need to pick up The Phantom Tollbooth. I suspect I must've read it as a kid..BUT I HAVE NO RECOLLECTION OF IT. I don't know why I think of Harold and his purple crayon when I see the cover.

Now I must face my final exams. *cries*

December 4, 2012 at 12:57 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Hahaha, but you read Mystic City first. I didn't get that for review, so it got tossed into my collection. :-p

When I was younger, I remember being told swallowing gum would destroy your insides and I believed it so much I never did that again.

Candy is always fun. Also, can I have some peaches and chocolate please? Dahl's evil plan: take over children's fiction using hunger.

I haven't read that book. I've always loved the word revel. Also the word fete, but that is not a verb, so not as useful. But that's because your friends know you so well!



December 4, 2012 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

Maybe you'll read it for Dystopian February? Though I don't even know if I can even consider it a dystopian. More like a post-apocalyptic fantasy-ish..thing.

I was told that too. It was supposed to stick on your intestines..or something. And then on the playground I heard gum won't digest so it will stay in your stomach for all eternity. I am not a big gum chewer, so it never affected me. I HATE TRYING TO FIND A TRASH CAN TO THROW AWAY DISGUSTING, TASTELESS GUM. I am so lazy.

I remember reading about "Square candies that look round" in Charlie and The Chocolate factories. To this day I still don't get it. Is it a pun? a metaphor? My six year old brain can't grasp this witchcraft!
It bothers me to this day.

I have no idea how. *scratches head* I'll make a note to read/re-read it the next time I drop by the library, okay?

THANK YOU. I NEED IT. *prays to homework gods*

December 4, 2012 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

The dystopian months are very inclusive! It's dystopian/post-apocalyptic/well, I thought this was one of those but it's not SURPRISE. I might read it then if I have time. Depends whether I get review books or not.

That's what I heard and I was a big gum chewer. Also, I hate when gum loses it's flavor. I want it out of my mouth IMMEDIATELY. Can't chew it too much anymore, though, because my jaw does not approve. Now I have a mint addiction.

Bahahaha. Maybe the candies have alcohol in them?


*kowtows to homework gods*

December 4, 2012 at 3:01 PM  
Blogger Lilian said...

I was never a big gum chewer, and not chewing gum was the only thing I obeyed from my orthodontist when I got braces. I ate ALL THE HARD STUFF. and candy. Because no 8 year could resist no candy on Halloween.

Instead of mint, I suck on guava candy. And everyone smells it.

I looked it up, apparently it's a pun or something. Something about the candies being square but they have round eyes. What a bad pun. hmph.

December 19, 2012 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Nope. No child can resist candy, which puts me in mind of a different Dahl book!

I don't think I've ever had guava.


December 19, 2012 at 9:49 AM  

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