When I was younger, in elementary schools across the country, visits from the Scholastic Book Fairs were magical days to budding bibliophiles and students; any kid with a love of books was encouraged to sweep one off the metal shelves or to scribble on their book order forms about their newest finds. Without a doubt, one section of those shelves was always devoted to the time-tested and beloved stories by Roald Dahl.
I don’t remember which Roald Dahl book I picked up first, but for the ones I remember reading, no experience was the same and each one left an impression in my heart. Dahl’s distinct writing style takes both the whimsical and the weird and allows the characters to come to life on their own.
Dahl’s writing process is one that is as zany as the stories that he comes up with. In the archives of his works, an assistant working at the Roald Dahl Museum found that Dahl kept Ideas Books that were an amalgamation of notes and beginnings to stories that he’d slapped together. He even wrote and marked character names or titles, like “Matilda” or “BFG,” next to random thoughts he’d have about fantastical concepts. Matilda rose from the idea of “a boy who could move a glass of water with his mind.” As for The BFG, it started as, “The man who captured and kept in bottle – ideas from the brain.”
Dahl secluded himself in his Hut and found that his best ideas came from shutting out everything around him so he could think. He may have lived a hermit’s lifestyle when it came to writing, but in that sacred space of his, he found wells of creativity. In an interview from 1988, Dahl talked about how his writing process and how ideas come like seeds. You’re lucky to get one that’s good, and developing the story itself happens when you take yourself on a walk and grow an image or a scene. (In the same interview space, Dahl also gives seven tips for any writers wanting to follow down the path of fiction as well.)
I’m in love with Dahl’s creativity. Some of my favorite children’s books were written by Dahl, including Matilda and The BFG as well as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Fantastic Mr Fox, The Witches, The Twits, and George’s Marvellous Medicine.
I leapt for joy when I first read how strange and fantastical the world Willy Wonka and never-before-seen candy was created in an even more outrageous factory. I marveled at how a peach could reach a colossal size and float a boy and his human-sized bug friends over an ocean, and laughed at how a fox outsmarted evil farmers to bring food to his family and his underground companions. I was inspired that it was up to a boy, who is turned into a mouse, and his grandma to save the world from vile witches.
If you’ve read Dahl’s more popular books, then I’d recommend giving his smaller stories a try, like The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, Esio Trot, and The Enormous Crocodile for a quick but enjoyable time. You may not have a Scholastic Book Fair to go to anymore, but it’s never too late to go back to the bookshelf and reach for an old children’s book. No matter your age, they make you feel like a kid again, and sometimes that’s all you need.