on October 12, 2003
I first read "James and the Giant Peach" when I was 9 years old (I am 14 now), and reread it so many times that I actually know the story by heart! This book is funny, exciting and makes me use my imagination.
The story: After his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros (I would've made a tiger eat them instead, since in real life rhinos don't eat meat!), young James Henry Trotter has to go live with his two mean aunts named Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, who treat him very very badly. Poor James has to live with his aunts for three whole years until one day a mysterious man gives him a bag of magic things. (He tells him they are crocodile tongues.) James is so excited that he starts running back to the house, but when he is underneath an old peach tree in the garden he accidentally slips and spills all the tiny little things and they dig themselves into the roots of the tree.
Suddenly a peach appears on the very tip of the tree and then starts to grow and grow and doesn't stop until it is as big as a house! The aunts are so excited about this that instead of immediately eating pieces off the peach they start charging people to see the peach. After everyone has left they force James to pick up all the litter that the people left behind. Poor James is left all alone in the dark! For no particular reason, James walks up to the peach and starts touching it. He notices that there is a rather large hole in the peach. He crawls in, and the hole becomes a tunnel. He keeps on crawling until he reaches the center of the peach. He meets seven oversized insects who turn out to have swallowed some of the tiny little things that James had spilled. When the stem snips off (with some help, of course), the peach rolls off and the eight travellers embark on the adventure of a lifetime!
Roald Dahl was my favorite childhood author; I have read most of his children's books, and this is my personal favorite.
I recommend this book to anyone between the ages of 7 and 12.
on April 24, 2000
I am a tutor for a young child. I recently read this book to a child who doesn't like to read, and he could not put this book down. From a child's perspective, he found the book easy to read. He said the words jumped off the page giving him images in his mind. He loved the adventure and even put himself in the book as James. He pretended to be on the adventure and enjoyed every page. This book can jump start any child's interest to read. This book installs creativity and a fun love to read in a child.
on November 24, 2007
This is a great book for children from 4 to 10. I am way past that age but I still enjoyed it. Dahl's style of writing is excellent and the story is quite simple and interesting. All in all, an excellent book and I would recommend anyone with children to buy it.
(I am reviewing the 1988 Windrush large print version of the original 1961 book by Dahl. Illustrations are by Michel Simeon.)
This fanciful book's old-fashioned style and content almost feels as if it were written at the turn of the 19th Century, and the James' initial misery recalls Dickens. The writing's rough edges make it seem more like a personal story, rather than the product of some anonymous conglomerate.
Unfortunately, the beginning of the book (where James magically escapes from his aunts) seems contrived, the aunts are unbelievably cruel, and the writing is somehow flat. However, the book picks up after James and his newfound insect friends escape via a magic peach. The bantering and arguing insect personalities are reminiscent of those in "Winnie the Pooh" and "The Wizard of Oz." (The feuding Centipede and Worm are a bit like emotionally labile Tigger and pessimistic Eeyore; the "LadyBird" plays a role similar to the Scarecrow.) The insects' squabbling and fear is balanced by James' good-hearted and well-reasoned actions that save them from sharks, the angry "Cloud People" (who throw hail, water, and rainbow-making paint at them), and the fearful citizens of New York City.
Dahl has lots of word play ("Oh, just look at the vermicious gruesome face!"), and songs done in a kind of "Alice of Wonderland" meets Broadway style: "I've eaten many strange and scrumptious dishes in my time, Like jellied gnats and dandyprats and earwigs cooked in slime, And mice with rice-they're really nice/When roasted in their prime. (But don't forget to sprinkle them with just a pinch of grime.)" As you can see, the humor (and some of Michel Simeon's illustrations for the 1988 edition) is sometimes fun-gothic, and the demise of the aunts is not like that pictured in the movie based on the book (They get run over by the peach.) Overall, however, and despite its slow beginning, the book is stylish and lots of fun.
on January 2, 2010
I bought this book.
Dahl's name on a book, to me, is synonymous with a wild ride. James and the Giant Peach is quite possibly his craziest book (that I've read) so far.
Dahl's penchant for abused children facing down a cruel world sets the scene, with James Henry Trotter (whose parents were gobbled up by a rhinoceros) living a lonely, miserable life in the cruel care of his aunts Spiker and Sponge (who are, of course, truly horrible people, even for Dahl's worlds). Then one day a strange man appears and gives James magical green things, telling him to brew them into a tea and drink them and marvelous things will happen.
Parents will be close to screaming at this point, both because of the blatant abuse of the lead character and the danger of eating things strangers (and this man is indeed VERY strange) offer. Consider it an opportunity to have a talk or two about the serious subjects with your kids.
James accidentally trips and loses the green magical things, which burrow into the ground and instead work their magic on the few occupants of the horrible aunts' pitiful garden. The strange man was right, though, and the peach tree somehow surviving in such a horrible place, grows a gigantic peach that serves as boat, meal and almost a secondary character in James' voyage to freedom.
James and the Giant Peach is quite "out there". In fact between giant bugs, sheer strangeness and outlandish extremism (and cloud people) James and the Giant Peach could fit into the bizarro genre, if it was commonly aimed at children readers.
There is some issue with language ("ass" is used several times) and the level of abuse James suffers that makes this book not for all families. But the underlying theme is one of taking your life into your own hands and choosing your own actions rather than letting the actions of others force you into things.
Dahl's books might be of particular value to families and children struggling to cope with real life abuse and pain, as every story I've read so far has pit a mostly helpless child against forces entirely out of their control, and yet through thoughtfulness and great-heartedness wonderful things come to those who choose to live beyond the harshness of the world. Like many children found solace in the Harry Potter series after the death of a parent, some might also find solace and aid in coping from Dahl's dark, but triumphant tales of recovery.
on September 30, 2006
We do seem to love the story of a child whose life is so miserable that it begs for a magical rescue and an exciting, dangerous and hair raising adventure. In James and the Giant Peach we meet one James Henry Trotter, one of these very same children who like his predecessors and successors (Harry Potter, Cinderella, Those Lemony Snickett Children, Hansel & Gretel, ect...) is leading a desperate and miserable life with is two wicked aunts...his parents were eaten by a wild, rampaging rhinoceros (naturally). On one particularly bad day, Henry hides behind some bushes and meets a strange old man who gives him some magic crystals (green glowing pellet things), which he is supposed to drink (mixed with water and ten of his own hairs), but of course he promptly trips and spills them on the ground under an ancient and withered peach tree.
James is crushed when the crystals wiggle into the ground and are lost forever (or so he thinks)...but as with all magic, that's not the end of the story....it is merely the beginning. Shortly thereafter, the tree grows the most enormous peach ever and the aunts are in the green, selling admission to the general public...but that money and fame doesn't make them any nicer and James winds up locked outside, where he discovers a hidden tunnel to the center of the peach! Luckily for him the crystals have made quite the team for him to embark on an adventure with...the cantankerous Worm, the pest of a centipede, the wonderful Ms. Spider, the loveable lady bug, a glow worm, a silk worm, and an old grasshopper! In short order, the free the giant peach from its branch, roll over the aunts and are on the way to a whole big adventure!
Dahl is always a treat, and his books stand up to the test of time...kids always seem to love a good evil guardian gets what they deserve while the miserable child gets to shine for the good hearted, hero he is and have a grand adventure too! You'll have to read the book if you want to find out what happens to James and his gang once the peach gets rolling...you know you want to! James and the Giant Peach is still a strange and twisted tale that is fun for children of all ages! We highly recommend it!
on November 7, 2001
James was orphaned as a child when his parents were killed in the streets of London. After this tragic incident, James was sent to live with two of his aunts. While living with his aunts, James endures physical, verbal and mental abuse. He lives in these horrible circumstances for three years before he meets an old man who gives him a bag of magic crystals. The old man says that these crystals will end all of James' miseries if James only follows the instructions the old man has given him. These instructions require James to make a drink using the crystals, but since he is outside, he has no water with him. On his way to the house, James trips and spills all of the crystals. Before he can gather any of them back into his bag, they quickly disappear into the dirt under a peach tree. Devastated, James thinks he has lost his only chance to escape the horrible situation he must endure every day. Little does James know that the effects of these crystals will still end his miserable life with his aunts and transport him into another world.
Roald Dahl uses the talking, oversized insects to represent the various ingredients of a healthy life, which James was missing when living with his aunts. The Old-Green-Grasshopper represents a wise grandparent. The grasshopper often appears to be the leader and the ultimate authority among the insects. The night that James and the insects spend in the peach, the grasshopper tells everyone that it is time for bed (30). Also, when the spider is making beds for everyone, she makes a bed for the grasshopper first (31). This displays the respect typically given to grandparents. The spider represents the mother figure James had been lacking in his life for three years. The spider, polite and soft-spoken, makes beds for James and all of the other insects as a stereotypical mother would.
Caring family figures are not all James lacks while he is living with his Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. James' aunts never show him any affection, but the ladybug fills this void. Just before the centipede chews through the stem of the peach, the ladybug asks James, "'Would you like me to take you under my wing so that you won't fall over when we start rolling'?" (36). This illustrates how the ladybug always considers James' well-being. Dahl uses the centipede to represent the humor James lacks after being orphaned. For instance, when James decides that he likes the centipede, he thinks, "What a change it was to hear somebody laughing once in a while" (31).
Another factor James misses while he is living with his aunts is the hospitality that the glow-worm offers. When James stays up at night to take off the centipede's shoes, the glow-worm "leaves the light on" for him and later has to be told to turn the light off (33). Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker never treat James with such hospitality. When they send him out at night to clean up, they do not even pay attention when James' mentions how dark it is outside.
Dahl uses another insect, the earthworm, to represent loyalty. The earthworm willingly risks his life to save his friends. Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker never do anything to help James out. All they ever do is tell James to do more and more work, and never provide an emotional support system for him. The silkworm represents the support system which James misses after being orphaned. When a huge amount of string is needed to lift the peach from the sea, the silkworm lends its support and helps spin the string.
James and the Giant Peach is on the banned book list because of the verbal, mental, and physical abuse James endures while living with Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. In fact, James' aunts never call him by his name; rather they call him, " 'you disgusting little beast' or 'you filthy nuisance' or 'you miserable creature'" (2). I can understand why some people may object to this content; however, I believe that the abusive relationship is presented in such a way that it benefits those who read the book, especially children. Dahl clearly illustrates the negative impact that this relationship has on James' life and also clearly illustrates how James, a once miserable boy, changes into a happy boy when the ingredients of a happy life-- represented by the insects become a part of his life.
Despite the censorship issues James and the Giant Peach has faced, I believe that it is a great book for children to read. This book has an enormous amount of educational value presented in a way children can understand. James and the Giant Peach not only teaches children some basic science ideas through the dialogue between James and the insects, but it also teaches children how important it is to treat other people with respect.
on October 26, 2006
James and the Giant Peach Penguin Group,1996, 126pp.,$6.99
Roald Dahl ISBN 0 14 03.7424
When a young boy's parents die he is forced to live with his horrid aunts, who have a peach tree that suddenly grew a giant peach at a rapid speed. James got curious and found a tunnel in the peach that leads him to an extraordinary adventure and unbelievable problems! Within the peach is non stop fighting between bugs and non stop problems.
Roald Dahl is great. He is good with cliffhangers and he puts a lot of dialogue which gets you really interested. I felt I never wanted to put the book down. Roald Dahl really got into the characters and showed their attitude. He added a lot of details which pulled me into the book. I have to say if you like excitement this book is for you. I recommend this book to the young boys and girls. This books genre is adventure and fantasy. I love this book. I just have to say if you never read this book you just have to. I might be exaggerating but this is the second best book I have ever read. I'd rate this book a 10.
When Roald Dahl was asked how he kept his momentum going when he wrote a book, he responded that Hemingway had given him the following advice: "When you are going good, stop writing". That way, if you're in the middle of a fun passage, you'll be more inclined to continue later. This advice is all well and good, but when you apply it to a book like, "James and the Giant Peach", you just have to assume that it's a miracle that Dahl ever finished the book AT ALL. 'Cause quite frankly, this is a beautiful example of a book that seems to have been "good" from start to finish. As a kind of updated twentieth-century Grimm Brother (singular), Dahl hits every note in this book in pitch perfect succession. This is a fairy tale for children too old for fairy tales (and too young for the adult equivalent). It's also, and I mean this sincerely, a hoot and a holler in the purest sense of the term.
James has an awful life. If you knew him personally, you would not envy him. It's bad enough that he used to have an idyllic childhood on the seashore and that his loving parents were, in a scant thirty-five seconds, devoured by an escaped rhino. But even worse than this, he's been sent to live with his unspeakably awful Aunts Spiker and Sponge. For four years (until he's about eight) James toils in a home that would make even Dickens cringe. James is particularly in the dumps one fine day when a mysterious old man gives him magically treated crocodile tongues and tells James to eat them as soon as possible. Instead, the boy clumsily drops them at the foot of an old dried out peach tree. It should not surprise us, then, that this peach tree immediately produces a glorious magnificent peach. The fruit grows to the size of a house and, when at long last James finds a passage into the peach's center, he meets a hardy crew of gigantic insects. It isn't long before the peach is dislodged from the tree and James and his friends are off in a giant peach searching for adventure, happiness, and a new place to call home.
It was sweet of Roald Dahl to end the book in New York City. Somehow the image of a giant peach impaled on the Empire State Building's spike is not only believable but hard to shake from your mind when you see it shortly after reading this book (though I very much doubt Dahl's assurances that Manhattan's steeplejacks could dislodge it so thoroughly and so quickly). Also, it is more true than ever that if NYC saw a giant peach floating over the streets, the logical thought would be that it was a bomb. As an author, Mr. Dahl could never have seen quite how true-to-life this little detail in his story would become.
I did have some problems reading the book, though. These had nothing to do with the story or the writing and everything to do with that odd claymation movie that came out years and years ago. After seeing the film, I couldn't separate the plot in the book from that on the big screen. Were those the same songs sung? Who were these cloud people that suddenly appear in the book? I thought James really did save the spider in an earlier scene. He didn't? That was the movie? After reading through this tale I found myself thoroughly muddled. If you've small easily influenced children in your possession, I highly suggest that you save them (and yourself) some confusion by waiting a good long time to see the film AFTER reading the story through.
As for the book itself, it's pure Dahl. Unrestrained, fabulous, naughty, nasty Dahl. If you want a spot of fun you can always search through the reviews of this book for those parents shocked SHOCKED by the words "ass" and "horny". I would like to point out that "ass" is a perfectly legitimate Britishism and that it works brilliantly within the context of the book. Don't like donkeys? Don't read the book. As for the use of the term "horny", it refers to the grasshopper having an exoskeleton like horn. Don't believe me? Pull out that dusty old dictionary and have a look. Those amongst you who are poorly educated may continue to be offended by a word that is not, by any stretch of the imagination, offensive.
I loved the songs, the story, the characters, and the plot. It gets a tiny bit weak after more than one run-in with the cloud people occurs, but otherwise there's no faulting this necessary addition to every child's library. Funny enough for kids and smart enough for adults, "James and the Giant Peach" is what it is by deint of being the best. If you have not read it then there is a crucial gap in your literary knowledge. See that you fill it forthwith!
on June 30, 2008
Perhaps I should confess right up front that this review of what is popularly regarded solely as a children's book is being written by a 50+-year-old male "adult" who hadn't read a kids' book in many years. For me, Welsh author Roald Dahl had long been the guy who scripted one of my favorite James Bond movies, 1967's "You Only Live Twice," and who was married for 30 years to the great actress Patricia Neal. Recently, though, in need of some "mental palate cleansing" after a bunch of serious adult lit, I picked up Dahl's first kiddy novel, "James and the Giant Peach," and now know what several generations have been aware of since the book's release in 1961; that this is an absolutely charming story for young and old alike, with marvelous characters, a remarkably imaginative story line and some quirky humor scattered throughout.
As most baby boomers and their kids and grandkids probably know by now, this short novel introduces us to James Henry Trotter, a young boy who is forced to move in with his nasty Aunts Sponge and Spiker when his loving parents are eaten by a rhinoceros on the streets of London (!). His miserable existence takes a turn for the better when a mysterious old man gives him a bagful of magic green crystals, which James promptly and accidentally spills near the base of a barren peach tree. What follows is wondrous in the extreme, as James discovers a septet of insectoid friends inside the enormous, house-sized fruit that soon develops. Along with his new buddies--a centipede, an old grasshopper, an earthworm, a glowworm, a silkworm (which character was oddly dropped from the 1996 Disney filmization), a spider and a ladybug--James sets off in the detached peach on a trans-Atlantic journey, and this is just the beginning of his great adventures. Dahl makes sure that each of his insect characters has a distinct personality of his or her own; the centipede is a snarky showoff, the earthworm a constant worrier, the grasshopper wise and serene, the silkworm a quiet nonentity, Miss Spider sweet and caring, the ladybug warm and maternal, the glowworm mainly concerned with keeping her light going. Each brings its own set of abilities to the fore in times of crisis, James' own particular strength being his great boyish intelligence, natch. They are a terrific team of characters that effectively show the little ones the value of teamwork and overcoming differences.
Adult readers of "James and the Giant Peach" will likely be struck by errant thoughts as the story progresses. For example, the violent deaths of Spiker and Sponge, not to mention James' parents, are surprising, if glossed over lightly. Perhaps these instances of violence are the reason why this book ranks #56 on the American Library Association's list of "The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-1999." (Dahl's "The Witches" is #27.) Still, generations of impressionable youths have managed to take in the "objectionable" aspects of this book with no discernible damage to their delicate psyches, as far as I can tell! Adult readers may also be amused at the mention of a "famous factory where they made chocolate" in the book (a foreshadowing of 1964's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"?), and wonder at the number of sophisticated words (such as "wampus," "manticore" and "prock") that Dahl dishes out for the kiddies. They may also get a huge kick out of the hilarious poems and songs scattered throughout the story, as well as by the lighthearted humor in general. (I think it's hilarious that Miss Ladybug winds up marrying the head of the NYC Fire Department!) Grown-ups may also find cause to wonder why all those 502 seagulls fall into James' lasso trap. Couldn't all those birds detect this trap after 50 or so were snared? But this is a quibble. From magical beginning throughout its action-packed length (I haven't even mentioned the shark sequence yet, or the extended segment with the Cloud Men, which the Disney film unwisely drops if favor of an underwater ghost ship that is not in Dahl's novel), this book is a joy and a pleasure for young and--as I have just proved to myself--um, older alike. This classic work hardly needs MY seal of approval at this late date, but I just wanted all the adults out there to know that this might be a fun read for them, too. And now, I think I'm gonna go pick up "The Witches"....