Book Review – Matilda

TITLE: Matilda
AUTHOR: Roald Dahl
PUBLISHED: 1988 (Originally, my verson, i dunno, but they’re the same)
FORMAT: illegal eBook*

 

So, it may be cheating to pick a book that I’ve read no less than 100 times, but I’m okay with it.  The first time I read <em>Matilda</em>, I was probably 10, and Roald was probably already gone from this world, which makes me sad.  As voracious a reader as I am, I never even had a concept of telling him such, and it’s too late.  But that is a tangent, so let me attempt to stay on track.  On a mostly related side note, I once had a streak of reading this book so much that the librarian outright denied me the ability to check it out and started funneling me other books as soon as they were made a part of the library’s system.  (The Jenny Archer series comes to mind…) She ordered me to buy my own copy, which I did, and that did not deter me.  I liked – and still do – the feel of a hardback book that has been given the library treatment, cover coated, taped to the book, etc.  There was something special about the crinkle of the paper in my hands.  My local Waldenbooks didn’t have a hardback, so I settled for a paperback copy.  I was sorely disappointed.

Anyway…

Matilda Wormwood is a young girl who is totally ignored by her family and brilliant despite it all.  She’s also a bit mischevious and sweet and awesome and everything else.  I always related a little to her (I was the only one in kindergarten who could read going in, although I wasn’t quite at the Dickens level).  And I just genuinely liked the characters in the book.  In her story, she deals with the crap in her world the best she can and gets exactly what she needs in the end.

This time through, I decided to ask myself why I liked the story so much, and I realized just how brilliant Roald Dahl is, and just how awesome British society twenty-five years ago was.  For starters, the book is obnoxious and rude and mean and everything else – child after child gets outright abused by the headmistress.  She calls them foul, she tells them how they’re the boils on the buttocks of the world, she tells them they’re stupid and useless and everything else.  And then she grabs them by the hair or the ears or the whatever and flings them about.

I’m not saying I like an obnoxious and rude character – we’re not supposed to like Miss Trunchbull – but I liked that the characters aren’t dumbed down or sugar coated or whatever.  I don’t think this book would have flown past the censors today.

And I liked that the language isn’t stupid and rhymey and stilted.  I can name entire series’ of books that are so dumbed down for readers that the author refused to use contractions.  This book, though…. at some point in the story, Matilda and the librarian are talking about reading and not understanding everything.  The librarian gives the best gem of advice – let the words wash around you like music.  And that’s good advice for the readers too.  I don’t think that anything is going to be over the heads of your average eight year old, but if you don’t get it, just enjoy the ride.

That’s probably why this book has stood up so well.  There are plenty of children’s or mid grades books that I loved that if I read today, I’d be like “oh, that was a great trip down memory lane… ” but I wouldn’t care much for the book anymore.  But this book… I pick it up yearly at least – and mostly, it’s not for the nostalgia.  it’s because I genuinely love the story and want to read it again. And I think it’s pretty telling that the story works just as well for me as an adult as it did for me as a kid so many years ago.

I know this is a shocker, but 5/5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

*Earlier tonight, I searched online for a free eBook copy of Matilda, because I wanted to reference something.  I’m pretty sure (like totally) that it was an illegal eBook.  Before you get on me about it, the only reason I did it was because I was too lazy to move my laptop, stand up, walk from the living room, down the hallway, into the computer room/guest room/library and find one of at least three copies that I own.  The paperback and hardback of this book are all the same unless a special edition.  Trust me on this; I’m the closest thing to an expert since Roald himself.

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Books Review – Caroline, Rebecca, Kaya

Meet Caroline
Kathleen Ernst
Illustrations Robert Papp
Hardback, 2012

Meet Rebecca
Jacqueline Dembar Greene
Illustrations by Robert Hunt
Paperback, 2009

Meet Kaya
Janet Shaw
Illustrations by Bill Farnsworth
Hardback, 2002

As part of Pleasant Company/American Girl’s decision to retire Molly, Misheal and I went back and read through some of the books – Misheal tackled Molly’s six book series, but I went through and did Molly’s companion books and have now moved on to the other Meet whoever books from the American Girl catalogue.

In Meet Caroline, we’re looking at the first shots of the War of 1812, and a little girl who lives in upstate New York on the shore of a great lake.  When war breaks out, she’s in a boat that her father built with her father and two cousins.  As they go towards Upper Canada, still British owned, they get seized by the British Army, who takes the girls back to their family but hold her father and cousin, Oliver, as prisoners of war.  [Side note – if Oliver is from Upper Canada, he’s a British Citizen.  I don’t know why they took him prisoner…]

In Meet Rebecca, we’re with a Jewish family in the midst of World War I.  Her problems start with not being allowed to say the prayer to light the candles on Saturday, and end with her persecuted Jewish cousins trying to get out of Russia with their lives.

In Meet Kaya, we’re in the midst of a Native American tribe somewhere in the Oregon/Washington/Idaho area (they only show us a map of the tribal lands, they don’t really say where they are) during Salmon Fishing Season.

So now on to my feelings about the books themselves.  First of all, I am a little disappointed (no really) that they broke their format of all the dates ending in 4, but it did open them up to things like the War of 1812, which we learned sadly little about in school.  (The other one, so far, is Cecile and Marie-Grace in New Orleans in 1853.)  But it doesn’t have any bearing on what I thought about these stories, I just wanted to throw it out there.

Some of the early dolls/books were period specific but didn’t really have a lot to deal with/understand.  What I noticed in these three books is that they have gotten a little bit more serious in what they’re talking about.  Caroline is captured by troops, Rebecca is dealing with religious persecution and Kaya gets into a lot of cultural stuff that we may not be that familiar with – family/community obligation, behavior affecting everyone (at one point, something she does causes all of the children of the village to get whipped), etc.

Caroline and Rebecca feel similar, despite being 100 years apart, because they’re dealing with the same sorts of things.  They both have family in really precarious positions – Caroline’s father in a POW camp, Rebecca’s cousins trying to get here from Russia – and they’re both in New York and family centric (although that’s a common theme in all American Girl books).

Interesting, though, was that even though Rebecca’s book starts in 1914, there’s absolutely no discussion about WWI.  For now, I give it the benefit of the doubt, as the assassination of Frans Ferdinand didn’t happen until the end of July, but the way the series starts out, it doesn’t feel like they’re planning to talk about it at all, and that’s my interest in the era.  What I did find curious was that the Russians were persecuting the Jews way back then and that’s not something I’ve *ever* learned in history class.  Public Education Fail for sure.  America seriously needs to stop being so selfish and start teaching about the world.

Kaya’s book, on the other hand, was so totally different.  Her story takes place in 1764, and aside from the Small Pox epidemic being a fleeting comment (her grandmother has the scars and the story to tell), her family doesn’t really have much to do with anything outside her tribe.  What I did like, however, was how close the tribe was.  Even the ones who weren’t blood relation were considered cousins and part of the extended family.  When Kaya’s actions (leaving her little brothers in the care of a blind person so she can go off and race her horse) cause the Whipping Woman to come out and punish all the children of the village, Kaya learns humility and to be a team player.  I have to say, I kind of like the Nimiipuu (nee-MEE-poo aka Nez Perce) culture.  I like how the focus is for the greater good and having a group of people that are family even when they’re not; too often in modern culture, we have families who don’t speak to each other, people who move apart and then let distance cause an emotional separation as well, etc.  Kaya’s motivation was to be a citizen that her tribe was proud of.  If only we had that today.

In all, I love that these books deal with serious topics, but do so in a way that kids (well, girls anyway) can relate to.  In all of these books, we get to see that girls, even if they’re expected to do submit to the female roles of society, can be strong, courageous, and awesome.  Women are more than the cooking and the cleaning, and even if that’s what’s expected of them, they can rise to any occasion, and that is a lesson that I hope every girl gets – you can be amazing, you just have to do it.

I’m going to give these books a 4/5.  I know they’re geared towards 10-year-olds (all the characters turn 10 in their birthday books), but I think they have a broader range than that (easily 7-12, but beyond that), and they’re great as topics of conversation.

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