What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that, like much of Dahl's work, this book delights children even as it troubles adults.
What's the story?
Matilda is a genius: by age four she has read all the books in the children's section of her local library, and moved on to Dickens, Austen, and Hemingway. She can also do advanced math in her head and has a sophisticated understanding of the world. Unfortunately her crooked car-dealer father and bingo-holic mother, TV addicts both, don't appreciate her at all. In fact, they "looked upon Matilda ... as nothing more than a scab." Matilda spends most of her time reading, and the rest thinking up clever revenges on them for their atrocious behavior, such as putting superglue into her father hat brim, and swapping his hair tonic for peroxide.
Things get worse when she starts school, Crunchem Hall Primary School is run by the horrific Miss Trunchbull, "a gigantic holy terror, a fierce tyrannical monster who frightened the life out of pupils and teachers alike." Getting back at the Trunchbull will be much more difficult, and dangerous, than her parents, so Matilda's magnificent mind starts developing even more talents -- unbelievable talents!
Is it any good?
Here at CSM we have a yellow "Pause" button, which means "know your kids"; this book, like most of Roald Dahl's, should be labeled "know yourself." Some adults hate it for the same reason that kids love it -- it shows a good, smart child overcoming evil, dumb adults. It has ridiculous, cartoon violence, not meant to be taken seriously, where no one actually gets hurt. It has a black and white view of the world: the good are all good, and the wicked get their comeuppance at the hands of giddy, delighted children. If any of this bothers you, if you think children's books should always have a respectful attitude to adults in general and parents in particular, keep it out of your house, because griping about it will make you look just as nasty and clueless as Matilda's parents.
If, on the other hand, you can enjoy this type of humor, it's a harmlessly guilty snicker you can share with your kids. It's a silly romp, a good read-aloud, and a mild challenge for middle graders to read themselves. Either way, it will have them giggling and feeling immensely satisfied at the ending (which bothers some adults even more than the rest of the book). So make your choice and then live with it, because railing against this book is not going to do you any good at all.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about topics like fairness, revenge, adult/child power relationships, and the nature of intelligence.
Do you think Matilda is justified in playing tricks on her parents? On Miss Trunchbull? (And what do you think Miss Trunchbull might have been like as a little girl about Matilda's age?)
If you had Matilda's powers to move things with your mind, how would you use them?
Do you agree with the ways in which Matilda used them?