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Roald Dahl Day: Our favourite childhood books by the author, from ‘Matilda’ to ‘The Twits’

To honour this special day, we look back at our most-loved novels written by the famous wordsmith 

Eva Waite-Taylor
Monday 13 September 2021 12:50
<p>These are the tomes you need to pass down the generations</p>

These are the tomes you need to pass down the generations

Roald Dahl Day – celebrated annually on 13 September, the author’s birthday – honours his legacy and ability to craft imaginative books that have enchanted children for multiple generations.  

Publishing his first story, The Gremlins,  in 1943, Dahl went on to pen some of the greatest children’s literature of all time, including The Twits, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda, until his final book, The Minpins, was printed posthumously, in 1991.

These stories remain firm favourites thanks to their playful language, devilish darkness and rememberable characters.  

A true master of his craft, Dahl spent his days writing in his garden shed, filling books with words that will leave you feeling inspired to be a nicer, better and warmer person.  

To celebrate the talented wordsmith, we asked each member of the IndyBest team to choose their favourite childhood Roald Dahl book and to share their fond memories of the author’s tales.

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We urge you to enjoy each tome, since, according to the author himself: “If you are going to get anywhere in life, you have to read a lot of books.”  

Eleanor’s pick: ‘The BFG’ by Roald Dahl, published by Puffin

Sophie is a young orphan who is taken from her bedroom window after dark by an unknown stranger – the BFG, or Big Friendly Giant, who, happily for Sophie, is the loveliest, gentlest giant around. However, other “human beans” aren’t so lucky, with other far less benevolent giants, like the Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater, on the loose and out to eat them. Sophie and the BFG team up to take on the baddies, and even end up meeting royalty along the way.

Eleanor says: “I had a big hardback Roald Dahl anthology as a kid, and The BFG was the story on the cover. Unsurprisingly, that was the one I read the most! It has its dark moments, like all Roald Dahl books, but at its heart, it’s such a fun, silly, fantastical tale. Where else could you learn the words ‘snozzcumber’, ‘hopscotchy’ and ‘frobscottle’?”

Emma’s pick: ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ by Roald Dahl, published by Penguin Random House

This story is centred on nine-year-old Danny, who lives in a caravan with his father (his best friend). When Danny discovers his dad’s “deepest, darkest secret” – that he poaches pheasants – he’s off on the adventure of a lifetime to pull off a daring and devilish plot against their horrible and greedy neighbour. This is a wonderful story of the love a little boy has for his dad – in Danny’s own words, his dad is “the most marvellous and exciting father a boy ever had”. 

Emma says: “Although it’s not one of Roald Dahl’s best-known books, I loved reading it as a child. But, what I enjoyed, even more, was listening to the cassette of the story, time and time again before bed. The audio version really brought to life the wonderful relationship between Danny and his dad. For me, it was always a heart-warming story full of childhood mischief, secrecy and adventure with a Robin Hood-esque feel of stealing from the rich to feed the poor. And I loved the fun they got up to – from soaking raisins and filling them with sleeping pills to tamper with the start of hunting season, to nighttime stories of one of Dahl’s most famous books, The BFG."

Ellie’s pick: ‘The Twits’ by Roald Dahl, published by Penguin Random House

Meet the most gruesome couple in the world – Mr and Mrs Twit. The evil duo hate everything in life apart from the mean tricks they play on one another, catching local birds for their “bird pies”, and torturing their family of caged monkeys – Muggle-Wumps. One day, the monkeys have had enough – they don’t just want to be free, they want revenge. Dahl serves up an irreverently funny story that has an underlying message of morality and friendship; a tale that both children and adults will love.

Ellie says: "I remember constant belly laughs with my dad as he read The Twits to me as a kid. I couldn’t get enough of the grotesque illustrations, spiteful pranks and the sweet, sweet revenge that the book entails. Amid all the nastiness in the book, the quote ‘If you have good thoughts it will shine out of your face like sunbeams’ stuck with me and feels very apt, even today."

Eva’s pick: ‘Matilda’ by Roald Dahl, published by Penguin Random House

This is the tale of book-loving Matilda Wormwood and her quiet revenge against her unsympathetic and grotesque family. Not an ordinary child, there’s something special about her – and she’s had enough of her parents and their bullying ways. With the help of her wonderful teacher Miss Honey, Matilda might be able to change things for the better. It’s a magical story that proves that with a little ingenuity, even the smallest people can bring about change.  

Eva says: “Dahl has a unique ability to craft characters that are small yet mighty. This story is a prime example of women joining forces to beat the system collectively. Morally, it’s about being brave, true to yourself and inspiring generations of women to stand up for what they know to be right – something that remains just as important today."

Daisy’s pick: ‘Esio Trot’ by Roald Dahl, published by Penguin Random House

A wonderful, heart-warming classic, Esio Trot is a story about the shy Mr Hoppy and his love for his neighbour, Mrs Silver, and her love for her tortoise, Alfie. Unlike Dahl’s usual tales – featuring adult villains and dark humour – this is a story of a burgeoning relationship between two elderly and lonely neighbours, and how Alfie can bring them together.  

Daisy says: “This was one of my dad’s favourite books to read to me as a child, perhaps as it was about adults, a subject uncommon in children books and a welcome relief from talking about animals or teenage spies. Now reading it back to my youngest brother, who happens to share his namesake with the tortoise, it is clear what an expert and universal writer Dahl is – somehow making a sweet story of companionship between two elderly people so enjoyable for children.”

Louise’s pick: ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dahl published by Penguin Random House

Other than his workers, nobody had ever stepped foot inside Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory before, until Wonka (rather mysteriously) opened the doors for five lucky golden ticket holders, for a once-in-a-lifetime tour around the famous factory.

For 10-year-old Charlie Bucket, there was nothing he wanted more. His sorrowful family weren’t hopeful, but Bucket believed with all his might that he would find a golden ticket, and he did. While his character represents hope and humbleness, Dahl uses each of the other winning children to represent the worst flaws in society, and the various forms of bad behaviour are punished in ways that perfectly fit the crimes. Vividly told, this magical story proves kindness always wins. 

Louise says: “Fascinated by the tall tales of the mysterious and enchanted factory, I remember reading this when I was young and my imagination going wild, picturing Loompa Land and the inquisitive factory workers Charlie meets on his journey through the candy euphoria. Hanging onto every word, this was a book I always went back to, no matter how many times I’d soaked up every page."

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If you’re looking for more inspiration on what to read to your little one, we’ve found the best children’s books by authors that parents already love

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