Why is a dose of Roald Dahl so good for my kids?

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1. Hold your breath, make a wish ...

One incredibly important thing we can give our children is to introduce them to books they love at a very early age. The key to success is unlocking children's imaginations and curiosity with stories that really excite them.

When a Roald Dahl story gets you in its grip, there’s nothing quite like it. This giant of a man didn't write typical children’s stories; they are anarchic, outrageous and cruel with exuberant language and playful rudeness.

Here I reveal just some of the important life lessons to be gleaned from his stories, and how to ignite and nurture a lasting love of reading in your kids.

2. Magic recipe

Dahl's children's stories contain extraordinary ingredients which make them utterly delicious to kids, and many have been adapted as screenplays. But what exactly makes the characters so unforgettable and impossible to resist?

GOBBLEFUNK: Children adore this fantastic language which Roald Dahl created. Lots of examples can be found in The BFG, The Witches and the Charlie books. Far from random, his invented words are all plausible alternatives to the originals.

Mark Rylance as The BFG


SECRET PLANS AND CLEVER TRICKS: There's no end to mischievous plotting and trickery, both by notorious villains and the young heroes who devise amazing ways to outwit them. Ultimately Dahl's children's stories always ensured good conquered bad.

The Enormous Crocodile

Sir Quentin Blake / Roald Dahl

DARK AND SCARY: "Fairy tales need to contain something a bit scary for children," said Dahl, "as long as you make them laugh as well." Children enjoy being scared. Part of the thrill is knowing nothing terrible is actually going to happen to them.

Angelica Houston -The Witches

Warner Bros / Getty

OUTLANDISH CONCEIT: Children are open to big ideas, curious about the world around them – and with Dahl anything is possible. What better way to spark their imaginations than to introduce fantastic conceits like a giant peach full of talking insects?

James and the Giant Peach

AF Archive / Alamy

TABOOS: Dahl loved to defy social convention. Parodies like Little Red Riding Hood, who shoots the wolf dead, and mentioning knickers in a kids story in the early 80s ("she pulls a pistol from her knickers") were on the edge of acceptability.

Revolting Rhymes

Sir Quentin Blake / Roald Dahl

YOUNG HEROES: Dahl created fine young characters and put them in truly challenging situations. This in turn reveals their good nature. Here the kind-hearted Charlie Bucket finds a golden ticket in Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory.

Peter Ostrum plays Charlie


EVIL GROWN-UPS: There's an expectation that children should love their parents and relatives. But some adults mistreat children. Dahl explored this reality and ensured the young heroes outsmarted the cruel grown-ups in astonishingly inventive ways.

George's Marvellous Medicine

Sir Quentin Blake / Roald Dahl

MAGNIFIED PERSONALITY TRAITS: Dahl tapped into children’s understanding of the world as black or white. Evil characters are truly bad, and the good are exceptional – leaving no doubt as to where your allegiances lie.

Ghastly Mrs Twit in The Twits

BBC Bitesize

MYSTERIOUS WORLDS: Part of the magic of Roald Dahl is that children have to discover new things in order to appreciate the story. In Matilda, the books she reads transport her around the globe where she meets extraordinary people.

Mara Wilson as Matilda

AF Archive / Alamy

IRREVERENT RUDENESS: Whizz-popping (breaking wind) in front of the Queen of England is unthinkable. Even today this would be considered inconceivable! Children adore outrageous humour like this.

Various Roald Dahl characters

Sir Quentin Blake

3. Children who love to read do well

Children who love reading do well at school.

The National Literacy Trust: Children and Young People’s Reading in 2014/OECD Reading for Change

When children find stories they love, it gives them the confidence and motivation to try more challenging books. "If we can raise children with an intrinsic love of reading, it leads to an indelible desire to learn," says Jonathan Douglas from the National Literacy Trust.

4. Life lessons

Roald Dahl stories are packed full of insights that tell us something about ourselves. Which life lesson do you think is the most important?


With determination you can make great things happen – just like the young heroes in Dahl's stories.

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Mr Fox is self-confident and assured, which helps him master difficult situations and outwit the evil farmers.

Kind and gracious

Despite living in dire poverty, Charlie Bucket doesn't complain. He makes the most of what he's got and is kind to all he meets.

You selected

Kind and gracious

A fine person

When Charlie inherits riches beyond his wildest dreams, it doesn't change him at all. No matter what your circumstances, treat others with respect.

Looks can be deceiving

There are all kinds of different people in the world. Try not to judge someone on first impressions.

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Looks can be deceiving


Evil witches disguised as kind respectable ladies and scary giants who turn out to be friendly and caring: it's easy to misjudge potential friends and enemies.

5. WATCH: George's Marvellous Medicine

Dick and Dom read extracts from their favourite Dahl story, about a young boy called George who "when left alone in the house with his grizzly old grunion of a Grandma, decides to concoct some home-made medicine to cure her of her horribleness."

Clip from BBC Two's Bringing Books to Life series.

6. Ignite a lasting love of reading

Reading takes us into a world of feelings and ideas – how to face danger, how to have hope, what despair, fear, love, anger, jeopardy and the rest feel like, and much more. Out of this comes wisdom. Dahl’s works are packed with examples of this sort of wisdom and learning.

  1. Language enrichment found in lullabies and nursery rhymes are fundamental to reading. The repetition is key to reinforcing the message.
  2. Drawing encourages reading. Illustrations are a gateway into the world of books.
  3. Read stories aloud with expression which will enthral and engage. Talk to your children – language-rich environments help develop vocabulary.
  4. Discover the type of stories your child loves. Don't expect children to read books that don't appeal to them.
  5. How do you communicate? The way we ask a question and our tone of voice builds a picture and develops children, giving them confidence... or not.
  6. Questions help attitudes to learning. Inspired by The Twits, you could ask your children: "What is the most disgusting thing YOU can think of?"
  7. Enrich their surroundings. Children grab things in their environment, so try to ensure there are always a variety of books available.
  8. Don't make reading competitive – children should enjoy it as much as playing a game.