A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Demon Dentist is a devilishly grisly fantasy that features two terrifying dentists. (Children who are already skittish about dental exams should skip this one.) English author (and actor) David Walliams relishes the over-the-top, grisly embellishments: rusty and savage dental tools, a cat that licks blood off freshly pulled teeth, a freshly plucked pig's eyeball, still twitching. There are some sad undercurrents -- Alfie and his dying father are very poor and socially isolated -- but there's great warmth to the story, as well. Three special people in Alfie's life are affectionately attentive to his small family. The book retains a very British feel, keeping U.K. terms such as "surgery" for a medical office and incorporating British sweets, but American kids will catch on quickly. There's a fair amount of potty humor and cheap laughs at the expense of an overweight woman.
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What's the story?
After a terrible dental visit, Alfie has managed to avoid going to the dentist. It's been easy to hide appointment reminders from his father, an unemployed, ailing former coal miner. But a well-meaning social worker has begun to check on Alfie's impoverished home, and getting him to a dentist is her top priority. Unfortunately for Alfie, the new dentist in town is the creepy Ms. Root, who hands out toothpaste so strong it burns through stone. On top of that, children in town who leave teeth for the tooth fairy are finding grisly surprises instead of coins when they wake. Alfie and his new friend, Gabz, suspect the new dentist might have something to do with it.
Is it any good?
Actor David Walliams' fiendishly fun novel invites comparison to the work of Roald Dahl with its dark humor, dumb grown-ups, and squiggly art. (The latter, by Tony Ross, evokes the work of longtime Dahl collaborator Quentin Blake.) DEMON DENTIST doesn't live up to the genius of their best work, but children who enjoy their style will shiver and snicker through Walliams' wicked romp.
His witch is deliciously creepy, insisting children call her "Mummy" and cooing over bad teeth. Walliams makes good use, too, of running gags, such as Texting Boy, who misses all the action. But some of the humor aims uncomfortably low, particularly with Winnie: An African-American social worker with a heart of gold, she has a sensitive gastrointestinal system and is mocked for her size, greediness, accent, and loud style. One drawing shows her stripped to her underwear after squeezing through a too-small space. (Two other women's bottoms are played for laughs, as well, including another case of underwear exposure.) Kids will squeal, but parents may squirm.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the appeal of stories that combine scary stuff and humor. Why do people like this mix? Would the humor be as funny without the bite? Would it be too scary without the wink and smile?
The author aims many jokes at silly adults, overweight people, and children who focus on their phones. Did any of the humor strike you as harsh, or is it all in good fun? When is it OK to make fun of a group or type of person, and when is it unfair?
Which classic fairy tale elements do you recognize in the story?
- Author: David Walliams
- Illustrator: Tony Ross
- Genre: Horror
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
- Publication date: March 1, 2016
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 448
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (abridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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