Girls in their Sunday-go-to-meetin’,
plod along muddy roads–
colorful yet spatter-fearing–
trudging to Easter service
meticulously, yet carefree.
Some wedge their way into Tata Sumos
to jounce their way to mass.
Master wicker craftsmen
made their Easter baskets.
My Hoosier childhood Easters
featured injection-molded plastic baskets
but pressed from a blob of pastel plastic.
Even our grass was plastic–fake grass.
[Same as Christmas tinsel but for color.]
I bet they have real grass, too.
We had access to real grass
but no one wanted it
to touch their jelly bean.
I find so much reality to be alien and off-putting.
And I never learned
whether Meghalayans eat their
This is an excellent, little story about a big, friendly Giant [hence, BFG.] The main characters are the BFG and an orphan named Sophie. The former abducts the later from her bed, which sounds terrible, but he’s conflicted about it. He snatches her because she saw him during his late-night work delivering good dreams to children, and he can’t have any witnesses lest the townspeople get pitch-forky with him. Sophie has no parents or siblings to miss her, and she doesn’t mind being away from the orphanage and making a Giant new friend, but she doesn’t wish to live out her life in Giant Country. While the BFG is a kind and delightful character, he’s the exception to the rule when it comes to Giants. Furthermore, because he lives off the snozzcumber [a repulsive vegetable] rather than dining on people, he’s a runt among his human-eating species. Therefore, he’s no match for his nine mischievous fellow residents of Giant Country. Sophie and the BFG work together to try to achieve an end that is pleasing for all parties concerned—well, except for the nine human-eating giants.
The story is clever, and the BFG character is well-developed and interesting. BFG is wise, but he has trouble with language owing to his lack of formal education and he often mixes it up in whimsical ways. He’s also conscientious about his work of catching dreams and delivering them into the bedrooms of sleeping children so they can have delightful dreams. He also takes bad dreams out of commission by catching them in a jar and keeping them on shelves in his cave. Sophie is smart and likable—if not as interesting than BFG.
The book is illustrated by Quentin Blake in the same style as the other Dahl books. The version I have has black-and-white line drawings, but there is color edition that may be more appealing to children.
This is a great story presented with humor, and I recommend it.
This is the first of a two-volume autobiography of the writer of children’s books, Roald Dahl. You probably know of Dahl from his fictional works such as: “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Matilda,” “The BFG,” “The Twits,” or “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”
I initially picked up the second part, “Going Solo,” which is about Dahl’s adult life–particularly his early post-school years in which he was an expat serving with Shell Corporation in Africa and—when the war broke out—a fighter pilot. I figured I should read the first part first because it’s short, readable, and might have bearing on his later life. I’m glad that I did, but not because it’s necessary to make sense of “Going Solo.” Rather, because this volume provides great insight into Dahl’s body of work.
Dahl was Norwegian, but spent his school years in Britain, attending boys’ schools and a boarding school. The English schools provided much inspiration for Dahl’s villains and fueled his adversarial view of the child-adult interaction—a view that serves writers of children’s literature well. While I suspect the teachers and administers were just strict and reserved as one might expect at a prestigious school in Britain, it’s easy to see how this lack of affection becomes villainy in the mind of a child. (Not to mention the upperclassmen, who too easily become like the kapos from Nazi concentration camps.)
One feels this child’s perspective throughout the book. The book is written for an audience of children, not so much in the language [which is approachable for young readers] as in the attitude. Dahl presents the world from a kid’s-eye view. He also makes occasional notes to emphasize to children the ways in which the world was changed. Travel and communication for today’s youth are completely different enterprises than they were in the interwar years.
Besides seeing how the teachers, administrators, and upperclassman provided Dahl with villains for books like “Matilda,” one also learns about the origins of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Dahl and his classmates were given sampler boxes of prototype chocolates from Cadbury in exchange for a product review. This started Dahl thinking about laboratories and research facilities inside a chocolate factory, and a book and movie enterprise was born.
Quentin Blake, illustrator for most of Dahl’s books, provides numerous illustrations in the style of the other books. However, there are also many photos and notes from Dahl’s personal archives. The back of the edition that I have has a number of short ancillary features that are oriented toward kids.
I’d recommend this for anyone who is interested in Dahl’s life specifically, but also for anyone who’s interested in writing for children. I think writers can learn a lot from how Dahl presents his childhood in this book.
This is a biographical sketch of the life—mostly the professional life–of Harry Houdini. I call it a sketch rather than a biography because it’s a short work (less than 100 pages) and it’s not the case that Erik Weisz (a.k.a. Ehrich Weiss, a.k.a. / stage-name: Harry Houdini) led a life too dull to merit full-length biography. There are several biographies available. I present this not as a criticism, but to make the reader aware that one will be reading the condensed version of Houdini’s story. If what you seek is a short and sweet description of the highlights of Houdini’s life, this is the book for you. If you are a huge fan and want to know as much as you possibly can including the intimate nitty-gritty, you might start with one of the full biographies and / or even the books written by Houdini [Full-disclosure: most of them were ghost-written as I understand it.]
Houdini was a fascinating person in many ways. Parallels have been drawn between Houdini and fictional heroes, notably Bruce Wayne / Batman. At first this seems like an inappropriate comparison because Houdini was a showman to the core—not one to hide his light under a bushel. However, what such comparisons get to is that Houdini was preternaturally fit for his time and his approach to illusions relied not only on his smarts but on his conditioning. He developed some tricks that other magicians couldn’t repeat even if they knew the trick in great detail. The average man just wasn’t physically capable of pulling them off. Today there are artists such as David Blaine who follow in Houdini’s footsteps, but Houdini blazed a trail in this regard.
There’s another way in which the Batman comparison may be more apropos than it first seems. While Houdini didn’t fight violent criminals like the Joker or Bane, he did take on the con artists—most notably mediums who preyed on grieving family members. Like most magicians today—notably Penn & Teller and James Randi—Houdini was adamant that his tricks were products of skill and involved no supernatural powers whatsoever. As I say, today magic is heavily populated by science nerds who love that magic is the exploitation of the limitations of our sensory and nervous system organs, and who reject the supernatural, but in Houdini’s day there were still many frauds and charlatans in the industry. (It should be noted that Houdini invariably discovered these medium’s tricks or the restrictions that he insisted upon to study the act were unacceptable and the mediums and they backed out, but when he put out a challenge that he could figure out any magic trick he was shown three times he was stumped. However, the magician who stumped him, Dai Vernon, made no claims of supernatural abilities. He was just a supremely skilled close-up magician and—to be fair—showed Houdini multiple versions of the same trick, making it virtually impossible for Houdini to pin down the trick. Note: this story isn’t in Lalicki’s book, but is something I read in another book, I think in “Fooling Houdini“.)
The book has quite a few graphics, notably photos and old posters. There is also a brief chronology and a biography at the book’s end.
I enjoyed this book. While it’s concise, it’s not colorless. It reads well. If you are looking to get a quick look at the life of this fascinating person, check it out.