I’ve been on a spree of reviewing children’s books lately and I’m not sure why. One of the reasons is that I think you should never stop reading the books you love, even when they’re children’s books. Let me rephrase that: especially when it’s a children’s book! Some books teach you a lot about life and this is one of the books that taught me some lessons I hope I’ll never forget. This world and the adults in it can be cruel, and someone has to hold them accountable. As an adult now, I still feel like a child has the right to punish an adult when they’re wrong and this is just one of the effects Matilda has had on me.
Mr and Mrs Wormwood are bad people, and Matilda will be the first one to tell you that. Five-year-old Matilda is precocious to say the least and a genius to be frank, but her parents treat her with utter disgust. They usually ignore her, but when they don’t, they ridicule her and let her know they can’t wait until she is gone. The problem is, of course, that Matilda’s parents and her brother are dumb and slow. Therefore, they fail to notice just how special their daughter is. When Matilda was only one-and-a-half years old, she could already talk perfectly. When she was two, she learned how to take care of herself. By the time she was three, she had taught herself how to read and by four, she started reading every book she could get her hands on. Unsurprisingly, her parents don’t own many books, so little Matilda decides to go to the library on her own when her parents are out one day.
Books change Matilda’s life, as they give her hope and the first look outside of her awful home life. And they make her feel less alone. When Matilda is finally old enough to go to school, she befriends her teacher Miss Honey, who actually notices how intelligent Matilda is and appreciates her for it. However, the school is run by a tyrant by the name of Miss Trunchbull. Slowly, Matilda bonds with Miss Honey more and her confidence grows. So the little girl decides to punish her parents for being mean, because a bad person deserves punishment, right? Matilda gets very creative and it’s absolutely brilliant. At the same time, Miss Trunchbull terrorises the school and when Matilda’s friend Lavender tries to pull a prank on their headmistress, Matilda must step in to save her. This is when Matilda finds out she is not only incredibly bright, but she also has telekinetic superpowers, and there is no stopping her now.
Matilda really is the original bookworm and it could be said that it’s a crying shame that we haven’t reviewed her book on this site before. How exactly she learns how to read isn’t explained in the book, but she does and reads with gusto. When you think about it, it’s interesting how Matilda is a book about a bookworm, probably read by little bookworms, because Matilda is quite a long book for young children, so you need to be dedicated to it. But I really identified with Matilda when I was little, because my childhood was hard and I remember reading so many books as a way out. Matilda does the same thing, but even better, she translates her newfound knowledge from books to action in real life. She is just a child, but she develops her own sense of morality based on what she learns, like how a bad person has to be punished, even when it’s the adult who’s bad. Matilda reads to feel less alone, which is such a strong message, but I think an even stronger message is that kids who read this book feel less alone through Matilda.
There has been a shift in me and in how I read this book now compared to when I was little. When I was little I was aware of Matilda’s parents being mean, but the main points of interest are how funny the book is, the books Matilda reads and how cool it would be to have superpowers just like Matilda. I’ve recently re-read this novel and now it also strikes me how sad Matilda’s home life is. The book is filed with pain in a sense and two storylines of horrible neglect. Matilda is still a cool little girl, but she is also wounded and vulnerable from the abuse she essentially faces. As great as it may seem that she decides to change all of that on her own, a six-year-old girl shouldn’t be responsible for that. The adults should act, but as is often the case in Dahl’s books, adults are completely useless. Matilda was a hero to me when I was little because of the fact that she takes control of her own life, but as an adult now, I can also see the adults who fail her so badly.
One of the best things about Roald Dahl’s books is the fact that he seems so in tune with how childrens’ brains work. I think many adults can’t for the life of them remember what it was like to be a kid, but Dahl; he remembers. Like I said, the adults are often useless, which is unfortunately the case in real life as well. But there’s also the imaginative stories he creates, with little details kids love, but adults might find disgusting or simply too weird. His books are hilarious, unexpected in every way and the children always win. I’ve always found it interesting how Roald Dahl was apparently not that great of a father, but on the other hand, maybe you can’t have it both ways. Maybe you can’t still be a child at heart and be a wonderful parent at the same time. This is another one of the lessons I have learned through Matilda: a healthy balance is needed. I need to remember what it’s like to be a kid, but I also need to make sure I do not fail a kid.
I’m not sure if Matilda is my favourite book by Roald Dahl, but it has been his most influential one. I used to read it in times of distress and I still do on occasion. Now, I hope with all my heart that you’ve had a lovely childhood and never had the need to escape it through stories, but if you did, Matilda is the heroine for you. If not, this book is hilarious, still deep at times, and an utter joy to read. You’ll not regret reading it. As a last warning: if you plan on gifting this book to a child, please do, but beware of Matilda’s moral advice: if a person is bad, that person deserves to be punished. So, if you end up with your hat glued to your head, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Alex Cabot Award: For straight up legal advice
Roald Dahl, Matilda (London, 1988)