Book: Danny the Champion of the World (1975)
Genre: Children’s General
Can Danny and his father outsmart the villainous Mr. Hazell?
Danny has a life any boy would love—his home is a gypsy caravan, he’s the youngest master car mechanic around, and his best friend is his dad, who never runs out of wonderful stories to tell. But one night Danny discovers a shocking secret that his father has kept hidden for years. Soon Danny finds himself the mastermind behind the most incredible plot ever attempted against nasty Victor Hazell, a wealthy landowner with a bad attitude. Can they pull it off? If so, Danny will truly be the champion of the world.
A young English boy describes his relationship with his father and the special adventure they share together.
Roald Dahl was quite the interesting character, and wrote many beloved children’s books. I would recommend reading the synopsis before buying a title you are unfamiliar with, as some of his stories contain morals that you may not want to pass on to your children. For example, George’s Marvelous Medicine is about a boy who murders his grandmother through poison, but it’s ok because she’s mean. I will say that the writing is so fun and captivating that I didn’t notice these things as a child, it’s only now that I look back on it that I’ve realized some of the ethics are a bit…questionable.
Danny the Champion of the World is a delight to read, for both children and adults. It does glorify illegal poaching, but it is really about the great relationship between Danny and his father. So many children’s books feature orphans, cruel step-parents, or otherwise dysfunctional or nonexistent families that it is refreshing to see the bond between a father and son celebrated. Danny and his father are always doing fun new things together (and none of them involve a TV! Imagine!). Some other positive themes of the book are the enjoyment of nature and the importance of education. This is a book that I can’t wait to share with my son when he’s older. Fans of Dahl might also recognize the Big Friendly Giant, one of my favorite stories of his, which started out life as a bedtime story told to Danny in this book.
There was a movie adaptation, which I haven’t seen in decades, but I remember as being really well done. My mom also remembers it as a delightful film, so I’m going to go ahead and give it the Lector’s Books stamp of approval (and it’s going on the list for my next library visit!). It stars Jeremy Irons and his real life son (and his father-in-law as the doctor), and Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid, to you Harry Potter fans) as the baddie. (Oh no! I just looked for it online and it’s only available on VHS! Hopefully they’ll rerelease it onto Blu-Ray or DVD soon.)
At the very end of the book, after the story is done, Dahl included this: “A message to Children Who Have Read This Book. When you grow up and have children of your own do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.” Don’t be afraid to have fun with your kids – take inspiration from this book and fly a kite, or try out some stilts, or do something completely unexpected and different.
What are your favorite Roald Dahl books? What’s something fun that you’ve done either with your own kids or with your parents when you were a kid?
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