Sitting in an old and battered armchair in a worn-out shed at the bottom of his garden, one man changed the face of children literature for future generations. The 13 September will mark the biggest ever global celebration of this renowned author, the one and only, Roald Dahl.
Armed with a specifically designed writing board on his lap and a HB pencil on a yellow legal paper pad, Dahl spent around four hours a day bringing his wonderful and creative world to life. With characters ranging from witches to talking foxes, his stories have fascinated children for several decades and encouraged thousands to enjoy reading.
Due to his whimsical, sharp sense of humour, it can be argued that Dahl remains unmatched in the world of children’s literature, selling an estimated 250 million copies of his books worldwide. With 21 original books for children, including rhymes as well as mesmerising stories, several anthologies, story collections and omnibuses under his belt, it is said that Dahl may have invented over 250 new words, with many of them appearing in his best-selling children’s book The BFG.
However, the ingenious writer’s talents did not only entertain children, with several pieces of his work being for adults, displaying his skills at writing for any audience. Furthermore, what is infrequently recognised about Dahl is that he wrote five screenplays, including well-loved films such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and You Only Live Twice.
But how did this friendly giant, standing tall at six foot six inches, become one of the world’s greatest writers?
Whilst Dahl is one of the most globally recognised authors, his past as an unsung hero is rarely known. After working for Shell Oil Company in Tanzania, he joined the Royal Air Force where he became a WW2 Hurricane fighter pilot. Whilst serving in the Mediterranean, Dahl crash-landed in Egypt, leaving him with serious injuries to his skull, spine and hip which lead to him having two steel hips and six spinal surgeries during his lifetime.
Following his accident, Dahl went on to work as a British Diplomat in Washington before being recruited as a spy for MI6, working alongside Ian Fleming, who would later hire Dahl while creating James Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
After being encouraged to start writing by author C.S. Forester, Dahl always said that his first big break in writing came when he was asked to write an account of his experience in the war – little did he know that he would go on to change the face of children’s literature.
He later described his foray into writing as a “pure fluke,” saying: “Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it”. Similar to how he was encouraged to write, his novels have undoubtedly encouraged thousands of children to read, including those who wouldn’t have previously enjoyed the experience.
Telling his children nightly bedtime stories, Dahl conjured magical ideas and plots which inspired his future career as a children’s writer, and many of which became the basis for some of his most popular kids’ books, using his children as an informative test audience.
Talking about his numerous children’s books in an interview with the New York Times, Dahl revealed his secret to writing the widely loved books, saying: “Children are … highly critical. And they lose interest so quickly. You have to keep things ticking along. And if you think a child is getting bored, you must think up something that jolts it back. Something that tickles. You have to know what children like.”
Nonetheless, his techniques to keep children interested have been the subject of some controversy, as critics and parents have recoiled at their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult transgressors. In his defence, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humour than adults, and that he was merely trying to appeal to his readers.
Despite the critics, Dahl is cherished by many around the world, and his talents as a writer will be celebrated by thousands next week. In a grand attempt to encourage reading on a giant scale, Roald Dahl Day will celebrate the magic that his stories have brought to the world, with schools, libraries and book shops across the country holding ‘readathons’ and Roald Dahl parties.
Nearly 100 years after his birth, Dahl’s spell-binding stories continue to inspire children and adults through his creative use of language and memorable characters, with several of his books being adapted into musicals, films, plays, TV shows and even operas.
Show your support for the real-life imaginative BFG, and help inspire the next generation to enjoy reading, by celebrating the life and accomplishments of Dahl at your school. If you are struggling to get your class reading, check out RoaldDahl.com for ideas on how to celebrate Roald Dahl Day.
Bio (2016) ‘Roald Dahl Biography’, <http://www.biography.com/people/roald-dahl-9264648> [Accessed: 5 September 2016]
Buckinghamshire County Council (2016) ’10 facts about Roald Dahl’, <http://www.buckscc.gov.uk/leisure-and-culture/libraries/childrens-library/10-facts-about-roald-dahl/> [Accessed: 5 September 2016]
KidsKonnect (2016) ‘Roald Dahl Facts’, <https://kidskonnect.com/people/roald-dahl/> [Accessed: 5 September 2016]
Carly Schuna (2016) ‘How many books for kids did Roald Dahl write’, <http://childrens-books.lovetoknow.com/How_Many_Books_for_Kids_Did_Roald_Dahl_Write> [Accessed: 5 September 2016]
RoaldDahl.com (2016) ‘Roald Dahl Day’, <http://www.roalddahl.com/create-and-learn/join-in/roald-dahl-day> [Accessed: 5 September 2016]