The tale of the unexpected decline of Roald Dahl

His dark humour and wacky characters enchanted generations, so why are modern children now leaving Charlie, Matilda and Mr Fox on the shelf?

Roald Dahl taught a generation how to fight back against the monstrous world of the grown-ups with marvellous medicine, magic fingers and a healthy dose of naughtiness.

But now the old rebel of children’s literature, loved by millions for his dark humour and taste for the surreal, is more popular with adults than with children, according to a new survey of children’s literary tastes.

Although Dahl is still the author  children read the most, not one of his books appears in the top 10 titles children said they enjoyed reading in the latest national What Kids are Reading report.

The report’s authors, Renaissance Learning, claim that the discrepancy shows “a big difference between the books children enjoy reading and the books…they are encouraged to read by adults”.

Dahl’s books, such as Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Fantastic Mr Fox, were staple childhood reads for several generations who are have now started families of their own. Tim Burton and Wes Anderson have adapted them into knowing films for grown-ups and comedian Tim Minchin had a runaway success with his stage version of Matilda.

But the books themselves appear to be getting less popular with children. In the survey of more than 300,000 schoolchildren age 5 to 16-years-old, the most popular book was Rachel Caine’s Glass Houses, the first in her Morganville Vampire series. Another tale of angst-ridden vampires, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was not far behind.

Two of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter books, The Prisoner of Azkaban and The Goblet of Fire are still in the top 10, alongside Anthony Horowitz’s Crocodile Tears and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth.

Dahl leads the top 10 most-read children’s authors, along with other teacher-friendly writers such Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson, but doesn’t have a single book in the top 10 best-loved books.

“It’s clear that although books such as Roald Dahl classics may still be very prevalent in schools, children’s tastes have very much moved on and it’s TV, film, and vampires that are currently in vogue,” said Dirk Foch, head of Renaissance Learning.

All of the top 10 books belonged to a series, which Mr Foch suggested allowed for greater engagement in young readers and encouraged boys in particular “to focus on finishing the entire series, partly because of the competitive element”.

Half of the top 10 have gained in popularity thanks to a movie adaptation – and all the associated merchandise. “The most popular books are being suggested to kids by adults, not by teachers and librarians but by marketing executives in film studios and publishing houses, throwing huge amounts of money behind these titles,” said Dr Lisa Sainsbury, director of the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature.

“As for Dahl, his books have been chosen by children in the past in the face of adult dissent. But as generations grow up and culture moves on then they become validated by figures of authority and are perhaps less subversive”.

Dahl, who died in 1990, wrote dozens of books and poems for children and adults which have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide. His stories, even those aimed at young children, almost always touched on the darker side of life. The hero of James and the Giant Peach, Dahl’s first children’s book, is an orphan whose parents died violently and escapes abusive relatives. Dahl’s books also have a strong sense of tough justice, with horrible punishments befalling the mean-spirited children in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Those who have taught Dahl’s work in the classroom believe that this refusal to patronise his audience means Dahl still has plenty to the offer a generation of Twilight readers. “One of his strengths is his characterisation,” said Ian McNeilly, former school teacher and director of the National Association for the Teaching of English. “In an almost Dickensian style he can bring characters to life and make them incredibly memorable. He had an excellent ability to see adult behaviour through a child’s eyes. He unashamedly revelled in naughtiness. Some might argue he belongs in a more innocent age, but he’s an enduring author and long may he continue to be so”.

Children’s favourites: Ten most popular

1. Glass Houses: The Morganville Vampires, Rachel Caine.

2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. Rowling

3. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer

4. Crocodile Tears, Anthony Horowitz

5. The Dead Girls’ Dance, Rachel Caine

6. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, Jeff Kinney

7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling

8. Percy Jackson and the Battle of the Labyrinth, Rick Riordan

9. Mates, Dates and Sole Survivors, Cathy Hopkins.

10. Survival, Chris Ryan

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

    The man who could have been champion of the world

    Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
    Didn’t she do well?

    Didn’t she do well?

    Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

    In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
    Before they were famous

    Before they were famous

    Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

    Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

    Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players