During our recent vacation, I had planned to read Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach to my kids. As I packed the book into my bag, I envisioned enthralled children listening to me reading, with the soothing sound of the ocean in the background. That didn’t happen—not surprisingly. The book couldn’t compete with the beach. But who can blame the kids? I didn’t feel like reading either, preferring splashing in the waves to the slow downfall of Lily Bart. But then, at the end of seven wonderful days, Delaware happened.
Route 13 in Delaware on a Saturday afternoon is boring, to put it nicely. There is nothing to look at, except retail stores, cars, and traffic lights. It’s flat and somehow colorless, despite all the advertising. It makes children bicker. Enter James and the Giant Peach! Yes, my voice got hoarse from reading for almost two hours straight, but whenever I looked up, I saw three spellbound kids who had forgotten all about trying to drive each other—and their parents—crazy.
The story starts out rather grim, with James’s parents getting eating by a rhinoceros and him being forced to live with his two cruel aunts. James is miserable and lonely until one day an odd little man gives James a bag of magic crocodile tongues, which James accidentally spills below a sad-looking peach tree in the yard. Soon thereafter, miraculously, a giant peach grows on the tree. When James finds a hidden door in the side of the peach, and behind it a tunnel that leads to the center of the peach, his life takes a dramatic turn.
Inside the peach, six life-sized insects are waiting for James. They are as eager as James to leave the pitiful backyard, and with a little bit of help, the peach separates from the tree and rolls down the hill and into the ocean. Once at sea, the insects and James encounter sharks, seagulls, and Cloud-Men, making for some entertaining adventures. Along the way, the reader also learns about how grasshoppers make music, how many legs a centipede really has, and how useful a spider and ladybug are in the garden.
After a crazy odyssey, the peach finally arrives in New York City, where, after some initial confusion, the insects and James all find a welcoming home and live happily ever after.
James and the Giant Peach is one of the 100 most frequently challenged books, according to the American Library Association. Apparently, people object to “inappropriate language,” “encouragement to disobey parents,” “scary elements like James’s abuse by his aunts,” and “magical elements.” I personally cannot relate to these objections. It is true that the story is not always warm and fuzzy, but it is original and entertaining. It creates a world that fired my kids’ imagination, which in my edition was helped by Quentin Blake’s whimsical illustrations. I am glad we read this book, and I hope we’ll enjoy more of Dahl’s books together in the future.