A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Like Roald Dahl's other great children's novels, James and the Giant Peach is really meant to entertain and uplift, not necessarily to educate. Dahl did throw in a few fascinating facts about insects and animals (ladybugs eat garden pests, and so are considered farmer's helpers, for example), but young readers might not necessarily separate the true from the fantastic, such as the "cloudmen" who send rain and hail down to earth.
Dahl was a master at creating these fantastical Dickensian situations, in which a poor, deserving but unloved child's life is magically transformed. The positive message here is primarily that, as the old man tells James, "marvelous things" can happen. It's also worth noting the way James overcomes his fear of the insects once he sees past their shocking size and appearance. You can't judge a book by its cover, in other words.
Positive Role Models
There are some mean grownups in this book, but James is an upstanding little boy: good, kind, clever, and resourceful. James and his insect pals also show how teamwork -- with everyone contributing his or her special talent -- can save the day.
Violence & Scariness
The demise of James' parents happens before the action in the novel begins, and that is probably the only event in the novel that could be upsetting to children. James' cruel aunts, Sponge and Spiker, beat him often, but that action is not shown. Later, the peach itself leaves some destruction in its wake, and sharks and the weather-making cloudmen threaten harm, but this is all within the realm of fantasy.
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On two occasions, Centipede calls other characters "asses."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that James and the Giant Peach creates a marvelous, fantastical world for young independent readers. Dahl's original cast of characters, magical and suspenseful situations, and his liberal addition of comic poetry also make this a terrific read-aloud book. However, Dahl's books are not always warm-and-fuzzy: James is orphaned on Page One, and he is treated cruelly by his selfish aunts. And, incidentally, his only true friends are giant insects. This is a charming, fast-paced fantasy for children who are ready to separate fact from fiction. If your kids enjoy the novel, also check out Tim Burton and Henry Selick's wonderful animated film adaptation, which came out in 1996.
Is It Any Good?
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is a delightful children's novel full of adventure and singular characters. As in many of the great Roald Dahl's works, the central character is a poor, deprived child, and seeing James Henry Trotter rise from his lowly state to become a leader with true friends is immensely satisfying. Dahl also weaves funny singsong poetry into his fantastical tale, which helps make the book wonderful to read aloud.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.