Boy: Tales of Childhood

Book review by
Katherine Kearns, Common Sense Media
Boy: Tales of Childhood Book Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Dahl autobiography focuses on nasty school days.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 14 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Positive Messages

Roald Dahl's writing is, as always, unsentimental and often comic, but the story shows him being relieved of his innocence and forced into a world where mothers have no place.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Dahl's autobiographical look at his experiences in school show him to be a worthy role model.


Dahl describes several canings; his depiction of the use of violence in school may shock readers. Dahl's doctor visits are nearly as frightening as the canings, as he describes not-so-minor surgery like removal of adenoids done without anesthetic. The s

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this well-written book is most entertaining when author Roald Dahl sustains one adventure (like the mouse-and-sweetshop caper). But while Dahl's drawings are lively and add a lot to the action, the photographs and letters he provides are less successful. The text includes graphic depictions of teachers beating students with wooden canes, which could upset younger readers.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byParkerH February 26, 2013

A great read.

I read this book first in 1989 as a 7 year old and I loved it, the cane had only been banned a few years earlier, so there was nothing shocking about it, but I... Continue reading
Parent of a 5 and 8-year-old Written bykarinajohnson November 27, 2011

Good for big kids

This was good for older kids to teens and adults, but may upset younger readers. Young children may also loose interest quicker. But I recomend it.
Teen, 13 years old Written byNath09 August 2, 2018

Life Changing

I was interesting to learn how it was in the time of Roald Dahl, how he got spanked and punished and now a day we take it for granted
Kid, 8 years old June 16, 2017
Really great book and I think it is really interesting to find out what Roald Dahl got inspired by!

What's the story?

Roald Dahl's anecdotal autobiography focuses mostly on his unpleasant experiences at three schools. Between ages 7 and 9, Dahl attended school in his Welsh hometown, where he and his friends declared war on the neighborhood sweetshop witch and were roundly caned by the schoolmaster. Attempting to save her son from such beatings, his mother sent him across the Channel to boarding school, where conditions were even worse and the boys had only each other in a world of authoritarian and often violent schoolmasters. At 13, he was graduated to Repton, where his athletic abilities and his size shielded him slightly from the general atmosphere of persecution, though he makes it clear that the headmaster was a genuine sadist. In this last section, Dahl also looks forward in time to his coming adventures in Africa, and allows himself some observations about how his childhood experiences shaped his later life.

Is it any good?

Because Dahl tells repeatedly of the cruelty of schoolmasters who constantly refined their caning techniques on him, some children will be saddened, and others enraged, by the unfairness of it all. These scenes clearly show the child's vulnerability in an adult world. But, unlike in most novels -- such as Dahl's own -- in this true story, the abusers never get their comeuppance. These are not reasons for children to avoid BOY, however; they may, in fact, be reasons children will respond to the book, which promotes the values of honest courage and determination. It also has lighter descriptions of teachers, such as the eccentric old bachelor, Corkers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the harsh realities of the author's boyhood experiences and how the subject of school punishment is handled differently when it comes to today's kids.

  • Do you admire Dahl for enduring abuse at the hands of his schoolteachers, do you pity him, or is it a little bit of both? Would you have enjoyed being a student at his school?

  • If you were to write a book of tales from your childhood, which incidents would you include?

  • Would you include bad things that happened to you as well as good things? If so, why?

Book details

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