100th Anniversary, 100th Birthday, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Chloe Dahl, Fantastic Mr. Fox, James and the Giant Peach, Knuckle and Claw, Lucy Dahl, Matilda, Roald Dahl, snozzcumber, The BFG, The Twits, Voodoo Doughnuts
On September 18, 2016, I attended a celebration of Roald Dahl’s 100thbirthday at his granddaughter Chloe’s restaurant, Knuckle and Claw, in Santa Monica. Lucy Dahl, Roald’s daughter, was in attendance, reading from The Twits and entertaining the crowd with anecdotal stories about her father. The kids in the audience were obviously fans of Dahl’s work, eagerly citing their favorite books and characters—even having some lines from the books memorized. Why do Dahl’s books resonate with children today? Lucy Dahl provides some insight.
CHRISTINE VAN ZANDT: Welcome! Your father wrote the classics Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, The BFG, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. What do you feel makes these books resonate with children decades later?
LUCY DAHL: The books are a bit of magic, they show children around the world how to believe and not give up, and to trust in kindness. Children also understand that the books were written for them—they weren’t pandered to or talked down to at all in the stories. Children really appreciate that—I know we did when were kids and our father would tell us the early versions of these stories that became the books you know today.
CVZ: What advice can you give SCBWI writers who wish to create books that withstand the test of time?
LD: My father wrote in a way of “the heart speaking to the heart.” I think that’s the key to create books to withstand the test of time.
CVZ: At Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday party, I enjoyed hearing children name their favorite book. Which one is yours and why?
LD: I think The BFG—because it’s somewhat autobiographical to my father’s personality and also to a family friend of ours. Reading and watching it is like spending extra time with my father. Also, this story was tested on my sister Ophelia and I when we were children. The BFG was “our story,” told to us before we went to bed; I wasn’t ready to share our Big Friendly Giant. When the book came out, I was a bit older and certain details had been edited from the first time they were told to us: the BFG didn’t live under our orchard but in Giant Land. These details made sense for the book but it also made The BFG less of ours. However, seeing what a fantastic job Steven Spielberg—I call him The BFD (Big Friendly Director)—has done on the movie, I was just so pleased with the outcome. It was like being back in my childhood, hearing my father tell us the story. It was incredible.
I’m delighted to share what started as childhood bedtime tales and I think he would have been pleased to know that Matilda and The BFG are just as beloved around the world as they were to us growing up.
CVZ: Tell us a little about Dahl’s fabulous inventive language such as, some of my favorites (from The BFG), “frobscottle” the fizzy drink made by giants which causes them to have some huge “whizzpoppers.”
LD: The BFG language was derived from my mother. After she suffered three massive strokes, she had to learn to talk again, it was frustrating for her, as a stroke survivor, as she could not say the word her brain was wanting to say, so strange words would come out of her mouth, instead of the ones she wanted to say. This is where the BFG jumbled words derived.
More about Lucy Dahl:
Lucy Dahl is the youngest daughter of Roald Dahl and Patricia Neal. She is a writer, a screenwriter and a producer. She wrote the teen comedy Wild Child, starring Emma Roberts, Aiden Quinn, Alex Pettyfer, and Natasha Richardson. She is currently writing and creating a new comedy for TV, as well as executive producing a TV adaptation of one of her father’s stories. Lucy divides her time between East and West coasts, and has two children, Phoebe and Chloe, and two dogs, Thelma and Lola.
About Christine Van Zandt: Christine is the managing co-editor of SCBWI’s Kite Tales, a children’s book reviewer, and the owner of Write for Success Editing Services. Twitter: @ChristineVZ, @WFSediting. E-mail: Christine@Write-for-Success.com.