Roald Dahl was a beloved and prolific author. Not only did he write books for children, but he also wrote short stories and adult novels. His quirky characters and inventive imagination set him apart as a celebrated author. While he wrote 22 books intended for children, it should be noted that many parents may not find some of his darker pieces appropriate for their children.
Chapter Books for Upper Elementary
These books are among some of Dahl's best-known works. Some titles were made into movies and others are award winning, but all have been beloved by generations of school children.
The BFG (The Big Friendly Giant)
Long before The BFG was made into a feature film, The BFG was a well-known title on teachers' shelves. The book features an orphan, Sophie who meets a giant whose sole job it is to mix dreams. Upon discovering the giant, Sophie is kidnapped because the giant doesn't want people to find out about their existence. However, she discovers that not only is the BFG incredibly charming and kind, but he is also is subjected to the cruel taunts of other giants in his homeland.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
It's hard not to have heard of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Some of its popularity is due, no doubt, to the affable Charlie and his grandfather, who win a golden ticket to visit the enigmatic Willy Wonka in his chocolate factory. The story is chock-full of character lessons as one by one, the other obnoxious characters meet disastrous fates brought on largely by their character flaws.
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left off with the whole family in the glass elevator. This is where Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator picks up. They are all on their way to Wonka's factory (with grandparents still in bed), so Charlie can take over his inheritance. However, Charlie's grandmother panics, Wonka makes a wrong turn, and the glass elevator ends up orbiting earth. Wonka, ever the entrepreneur, decides to start a hotel in space.
James and the Giant Peach
James and the Giant Peach is a grand, adventurous tale of James Henry Trotter, who lives with his cruel aunts. After meeting a stranger who gives him 'crocodile tongues,' he plants them and in their stead, grows a giant peach. The peach grows astronomically. While doing a chore for his awful aunts, he discovers a tunnel in the peach, which hosts a secret room and a group of large, friendly, talking invertebrates. The peach rolls down a hill, crushes the aunts, and sets sail in the ocean, gets carried by birds across the ocean, and finally lands on the spire of the Empire State Building. All are hailed as heroes, and James finishes the story in a giant mansion.
Matilda is the story of an intellectually gifted girl who lives with parents who simply do not get her. Her teacher, Miss Honey, realizes her giftedness and tries to advance her and talk to Matilda's parents, but to no avail. Miss Honey also confides in Matilda that she was raised by an abusive aunt, who turns out to be Miss Trunchbull, the horrible headmistress of Matilda's school. Meanwhile, Matilda begins developing the power of telekinesis and learns that Miss Trunchbull has stolen Miss Honey's inheritance. Matilda uses her telekinesis to convince Miss Trunchbull to give Miss Honey her rightful inheritance. At the end of the story, Matilda's parents are fleeing from the police, so Matilda asks if she can go live with Miss Honey. Matilda's parents agree, and Matilda and Miss Honey live happily ever after.
The Witches is a story about a boy who goes to live with his Norwegian grandmother after his parents are killed. The grandmother is a phenomenal story teller and tells him about the terrible world of human-children-eating witches. The charming tale takes the grandmother and the boy on a journey from England back to Norway again in a plot to use the witches' own devices against them.
Well-Known Books for Lower Elementary
While some of Dahl's most popular books are for the fourth grade and up crowd, he did write several titles that are much shorter and often appeal the third grade and under set.
Danny, the Champion of the World
In this charming book, Danny, a young boy who lives with his father in a gypsy caravan, earns the title, 'Champion of the World,' after he and his father poach nearly 100 pheasants. The story was also made into a movie.
The Enormous Crocodile
The Enormous Crocodile is a tale of warning. The crocodile of the book announces that he is planning on eating some children. He runs into various animals along the way, all of which warn him not to eat any children. He finally thinks he's going to get his fix as he disguises himself as a wooden bench when the elephant in the story outs him. The elephant then sentences him to death and flings him into the sun where he 'fries like a sausage.'
Fantastic Mister Fox
Fantastic Mister Fox is the tale of a clever fox who daily goes to steal food from three neighboring farms. The farmers of these farms are not the brightest, and they try a variety of measures to catch Mr. Fox in the act. When those fail, they decide to wait at the entrance to the fox's borough, but instead Mr. Fox, and his friends, dig tunnels to all three farms and manage to steal a substantial amount of delicious food. The very last line of the tale leaves the dense farmers still waiting at the hole for the fox to come out.
George's Marvellous Medicine
In George's Marvellous Medicine, George is an inventive boy with a cranky grandmother. To deal with his annoying grandmother he decides to gather every ingredient imaginable from his house and recreate a concoction that looks like his grandmother's old medicine. The medicine eventually has some rather unintended consequences, eventually making his grandmother disappear.
The Twits is about a hideously disgusting and cruel couple of the same name. In the book, Mr. and Mrs. Twit keep monkeys (Muggle-Wumps) and force them to stand on their heads for hours on end in an effort to create the first upside down monkey circus. In addition, they spread glue to catch birds for Mrs. Twit's bird pie. However, one day, the monkeys and the Roly-Poly bird warn the other birds, and they become difficult to catch. The Twits respond by buying a gun and trying to shoot the birds. However, the monkeys and the birds have had enough so they glue all the Twits' furniture to the ceiling of their house and spread glue on the Twits' heads. The Twits get stuck and get a case of the terrible shrinking disease, which makes them disappear. Parents should be aware that this book has some crude language in it.
Lesser-Known Books for Lower Elementary
While Dahl has no shortage of books that are incredibly popular, these books are lesser known. In some cases, it's because they are older titles. For example, The Gremlins was written in 1943. In some cases, the books share a kind of crude humor that makes them less popular in the classroom.
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me is about Billy, a young boy who wants nothing more than to own a candy shop and plans to buy an abandoned building to make it happen. However, he discovers one day that the building has been turned into the Ladderless Window Cleaning Company, which is run of course by a giraffe, a pelican, and a monkey. They take a job cleaning the residence of the Duchess. While there, they stop a burglary in process and earn enough money to buy a candy shop, where Billy promptly stocks it with sweets from Willy Wonka's factory.
Esio Trot is a cute, if not quaint, story about a man who is in love with his neighbor but is afraid to tell her. His neighbor has a pet tortoise that she feels is not growing, so the man tells her to whisper a magic poem. The woman is dubious but complies, and meanwhile, the man goes around to all the pet shops in the city, buying gradually larger tortoises. It's through this scheme that he finally gets to meet the love of his life and they end up married happily ever after.
The Gremlins were mysterious characters who went around sabotaging fighter jets and causing mechanical failures. In the book, the main character convinces the gremlins to work against Hitler and the Nazis, and so the Gremlins being fixing wartime planes for the British rather than destroying them.
The Magic Finger
In The Magic Finger, the narrator (who is an unnamed eight-year-old girl), hates hunting and happens to possess a magic finger that will turn whoever she wants into something else entirely. She once turned her teacher into a cat and then decided not to use her magic finger again. However, her neighbors made fun of her for hating hunting, so she turned them into tiny people with duck wings whose house was inhabited by ducks with people arms. The family was forced to live in a tree outside and beg the ducks not to eat them. The story leaves with the neighbors breaking their guns and promising never to hunt again, and the narrator going to visit another family who might be in need of a lesson on hunting, courtesy of her magic finger.
The Minpins is believed to be Roald Dahl's last book, and it was published posthumously. Billy, the main character, goes to the forest (against his mother's wishes) and discovers not only a monster, but also a tree full of little people. As it turns out, the monster, known as the Gruncher, has been terrorizing the Minpins. When Billy finds this out, he devises a plan to defeat the Gruncher and free the Minpins. They are so grateful, they gift him a swan that he uses to fly over the world and explore.
The Vicar of Nibbleswicke
The Vicar of Nibbleswicke was written by Dahl for Dyslexia Action, a United Kingdom-based advocacy group. The new vicar in town is dyslexic and to the shock of many of the parishioners of Nibbleswicke, he frequently says entire words backward. This leads to rather funny misunderstandings. While the book is intended for children, it is fairly vulgar in some parts.
There is precious little Roald Dahl hasn't tried, so it's no surprise that he has a few poetry books as well.
Dirty Beasts is a book of humorous story-poems. It was originally meant to be a sequel to Revolting Rhymes; however, it easily stands on its own. Each poem has something to do with some kind of animal or imaginary beast, and the imagery Dahl evokes is quite hilarious. For example, in the poem, Porcupine, Dahl weaves a tale in prose about a girl who sits on a porcupine and has to get the dentist to pull out the pins.
Revolting Rhymes features six well-known fairy tales; however, they are twisted and feature surprise endings. The book is the shortest children's book he ever wrote.
Rhyme Stew features poems that, for the most part, parody well-known fairy tales or nursery rhymes. According to Roald Dahl, the book is intended for children, however, most of the rhymes have some kind of sexual innuendo in them. Consequently, the book comes with a warning that it is 'not suitable for little people.'
In Dahl's prolific writings, he also included a few nonfiction titles for children.
My Year is like a diary of Dahl's final year of life. In the book, he tells stories of his childhood and adolescence while weaving in tips for yard care and how to play lawn games like Conkers. In the midst of all this, he weaves in observations about the changing seasons.
Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety
The Guide to Railway Safety was originally made as a pamphlet written for school children and distributed to schools in the United Kingdom to accompany railway safety lesson plans. The book starts with Dahl telling children how much he doesn't like it when adults tell kids what to do and what not to do, but that this topic is so important, he's going to do that very thing. It's notable for its illustrations, which are often humorous. However, it's not distributed or published any longer.
A Prolific Writer
There is no doubt that Roald Dahl was an incredibly prolific writer. Sprinkled with wit, humor and the occasionally crass joke, his books have been entertaining audiences for generations. Still popular in classrooms today, there's no doubt Roald Dahl has woven his way into the annals of modern classics of children's literature.