Researchers constantly find that reading to children is valuable in a variety of ways, not least of which are instilling a love of reading and improved reading skills. With better parent-child bonding from reading, your child will also be more emotionally secure and able to relate better to others. Intellectual performance will expand as well. Spending time together watching television fails as a substitute.
To help other parents apply this advice, as a parent of four I consulted an expert, our youngest child, and asked her to share with me her favorite books that were read to her as a young child. James and the Giant Peach was one of her picks.
The book is a wonderful witty exploration of the marvels of imagination as applied to nature. Every reader will look much more closely at the world around after finding so many interesting details to consider.
The story begins when James Henry Trotter was about four years old. He had been living happily with his parents in England. One day, they went shopping and were eaten by an angry runaway rhinoceros which had escaped from the London zoo. As a result, their wonderful home was sold and James Henry Trotter came to live with his decidedly dastardly aunts Sponge and Spiker. They mistreated and overworked James Michael Trotter much like the abuse that Cinderella experienced at the hands by her evil stepmother and stepsisters.
Poor James! He has become the most unhappy, lonely, and woebegone orphan in the world.
But his luck changes when a mysterious old man gives him some magic, in the form of wriggling little green things to put into water and drink. Then their magic will help James. "Whoever they meet first, be it bug . . . or tree, that will be . . . who gets the full power of their magic!" James is told to hold the bag tight and to hurry. But, alas, he trips and the contents of the bag spill out underneath the old barren peach tree in the yard. Quickly, the magic seeps into the ground as James scrambles to retrieve it.
Soon, the aunts spot a peach growing in the very top of the tree. And it keeps growing . . . and growing . . . and growing . . . and growing . . . until it's the size of a house. They concoct a scheme to get rich by charging admission to see the peach, while James is to stay out all night cleaning up the mess the visitors have made. Tired, he decides to look at the giant peach. He notices a hole, like a giant worm's tunnel in the bottom. He climbs in. What he finds leads him on one of the most amazing journeys that any 7 year old has ever had or imagined!
This story has a lot in common with Alice in Wonderland. Everything that happens prior to going through the hole in the peach is but a preamble for the role reversal in which the peach and the insects inside of it are made to be enormous. This is like Alice drinking the potion that makes her small. Yet the rest of the world stays its normal size. Basically, this is an encouragement to take the qualities of peaches and insects more seriously by exaggering their significance. You will learn a lot, and be charmed by how the information builds the story.
Along the way, Mr. Dahl asks some very interesting questions:
How do grasshoppers make sounds?
What benefits do earthworms, lady bugs, and spiders bring for people?
How many legs does a centipede have?
He also provides many fantastic explanations of natural processes, introducing cloud-men to make rainbows, hail, and rain. These are great fun and help develop the story.
Whenever James seeks to create a balance in and with nature, things work just fine. A good example is that he uses filament spun by the silk worm and the spider to tie to gulls who carry the peach aloft over the ocean. Harness just the right number of gulls and progress is smooth. Harness too few, and nothing happens. That subliminal message is a valuable one for every reader.
The ending is particularly fine for expanding on the concept of how each being's peculiarities can be strengths. The book appears to draw on The Ugly Duckling story for inspiration. Even James' loneliness serves him well, in the end.
I also like this story for its potential to inspire writers. Walk into your kitchen, and pick up the first item you see. Then build a story around it, like Mr. Dahl has done with this peach. If you do this with a child, you will both be the richer for the experience.
After you are done enjoying the story and writing your own, I also suggest that you think about ways that you can live in greater harmony with nature. What aspects of your life would you have to change? How could you be as useful to nature as the earthworm is to the farmer? What gratifications would you feel from doing this? Spring will be coming in a few months, and the opportunity to do some organic gardening using the materials in your own yard will be there. Plan to get closer to nature, and make notes about what you observe every day. You will enjoy great peace as a result. If you haven't read Thoreau recently, this would be a good time to do so.
Have a peachy time!