Category Archives: Single Parents
By Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published by Puffin
Copyright © 1975
Champion of the world? Well, maybe the champion of a small town and a patch of forest full of birds. But, it’s good clean fun nonetheless; at least if you are old enough to know better.
Danny lives with his dad (William) in a little caravan behind a filling (gas) station and garage. It isn’t the most beautiful home in the world but it is warm and snug. William loves Danny very much. He has taken care of him by himself ever since his wife died. William protects Danny and teaches him everything he knows. One of the things he teaches Danny is about poaching pheasants, and this is going to make Danny the champion of the world.
While, in my opinion, some of the characters are a little flat or unnecessary (e.g. Danny’s school teachers) and the chapter that ties in the story of the BFG was a little pointless, I still thought this was a good example of Roald Dahl giving us a little champion with a big heart. (With that in mind click here for a blog post about Dahl’s stories and rural class structure in Post-WWII England. I thought it was very interesting.)
I have some hesitations in recommending this for very young children because the moral is a bit skewed. A father and son love each other immensely (good). The dad teaches his son a skill (good). They fight against the oppression of a self-important, upper class, jerk (good). They bond (good) by working together (good) to steal from the aforementioned upper class jerk (bad). My mother always taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that it is never okay to steal. These are two things that I still believe in.
That being said the audience for which this is intended, kids age 7 and up, should already be grasping principles of right and wrong and will understand that it is a work of fiction. Besides that, there are so many pointless and horrible books out there that I don’t believe this one can do much damage. “Danny the Champion of the World” has a really likeable main character, some mild adventure, and a bad guy getting what’s coming to him. How could any child or adult not like a story like that?
By Meg Wolitzer
Published by Dutton Children’s Books
Copyright © 2011
I enjoy playing Scrabble®, but I never would have thought that they actually held Scrabble tournaments. I also didn’t think that I would ever be reading a novel about Scrabble, never mind being completely sucked in by it, but Meg Wolitzer has done just that.
Duncan Dorfman and his mom have moved fromMichiganback toDrilling Falls,PAwhere his mom is originally from. She lost her job inMichiganand her Aunt Djuna has invited them to come stay with her, and has lined up a job for her at Thrifty Mike’s Warehouse. Soon after he arrives at his new school, as is so common with new kids, he becomes the target of the resident jerks.Duncanjust can’t take it anymore, so he decides to show them his power. This gets him and automatic invitation to the Scrabble team.
April Blunt lives inPortland,Oregonwith her sports crazy family. All of her siblings are large and athletic, while she is small and brainy. Her family just can’t understand her enjoyment of Scrabble, and she can’t understand why they don’t see her chosen game as real sport; a sport of the mind.
Nate Saviano is a skater boy fromNew York City. All he wants to do is ride his skateboard, listen to his music, and go to public school like a regular kid. His dad, Larry, has decided that he wants him to be homeschooled so that he can spend every waking hour training him to win the Youth Scrabble Tournament; the same tournament which haunts him to this day, because he lost there so many years ago.
These three, and their partners, will come together for a competitive and fun filled weekend inYakamee,Floridafor the National Youth Scrabble Tournament. They all have different reason for wanting to win, but no matter what happens their lives will change forever after this event.
In this book Meg Wolitzer emphasizes the need to be honest in all of our dealings, because it will inevitably come back to haunt us somehow. In that vein, one of the few things I would change about this book is that Meg doesn’t go all the way in makingDuncancome clean about his dealings. All in all though, she really does emphasize honesty. I also appreciated how she highlighted the theme of acceptance. Each of our three main characters, and even some peripheral characters, are seeking acceptance in some way from family, schoolmates, or tournament acquaintances. It really carries a subdued anti-bullying message which is so important today.
In the way of criticism – In the beginning the author seems to be telling separate stories that seem a bit disconnected, even when you realize that they are bound to culminate in these characters meeting at the Scrabble tournament. She does meld them together fairly well though. I also feel that there are places in the book that the author builds the reader up for conflict that never really comes to fruition. However, Wolitzer did such a good job of creating hanging questions and of accumulating likeable and less-than-likeable characters that nearly anyone could relate to, that it kept me wanting to know their answers and outcomes.
Wolitzer has written a very engaging book for children ages 10 and up. If it were merely about Scrabble it would bore me out of my mind. However, she has really written us a book about family, friendship, honesty, and acceptance that everyone should enjoy. If you are a diehard Scrabble Gamer you love this book all the more for its description of game scenarios and its useful Scrabble word lists.