Perusing the old bookshelves at my mother’s house, I came across an old copy of James & the Giant Peach in remarkably good condition, and then begged to take it home with me. I’ve actually been debating on whether to spend the $7 it costs currently at Barnes & Noble in order to read it again – but alas, I didn’t have to! — Destiny!
I added Roald Dahl onto the ‘bonus’ section of my Classics Club List, because I have fond memories of his stories. My favorite was always Matilda, a girl after mine own bookworm heart ;-)
The thing that surprised me first of all about this book was how seriously horrible James’ two aunts are. Sponge & Spiker verbally and physically abuse the kid constantly – treat him either as if he doesn’t exist, or as if he exists only to do their bidding and nothing more – whichever is most convenient for them at the time. I’m sure this type of child hardship would be a little bit harder to publish now-a-days, for sure.
The story progresses, however, when James meets a small hairy little wizard who seems to know exactly who he is, and brings him a gift of magic beans/rice/pebbles. Clumsily, James trips and spills the magic bits under the peach tree where peaches never grow, where the magic works on everything except him, who was not fast enough to pick up the bits before they buried themselves in the ground.
The peach tree grows a gigantic peach (go figure), and several insects who ate some of the bits are blown up to ‘Life’ size, and take up habitation in the peach pit. After feeling a ‘calling’, James makes his way to the peach, finds there is a tunnel leading to the center, and discovers all of these full size, terrifying bugs.
It doesn’t take long, however, for James to realize that the bugs are not scary after-all – in fact they’re much nicer than his aunts, and he is glad to stay with them as their adventure begins. All that holds the peach in it’s place is the stem that connects it to the tree. The centepede quickly gnaws through that, and they tumble through country and towns…and beyond.
Honestly I think one of the main aims of this chapter book is to show kids that even things that scare us are there for a reason – particularly bugs. Each character reveals a quality that actually helps the world that James was previously unaware of, which makes him – and the reader, sympathetic towards them. The spider especially, who helps save them from a gang of sharks and then shares the story of the horrible murders of two of her immediate family members by James’ Aunts. (I don’t even want to start on how many heinous spider murders I’ve committed over the years.)
Other insects included in the peach are: the old man Grasshopper (who plays his legs/wings like a violin), a lady Glow-worm (who lights up the inside of the peach like a lighbulb), a sleepy Silk-Worm (who also helps with the shark situation as well as capturing seagulls), a caring Ladybug (who are a delight to farmers everywhere for eating pests), a useful and confident spider (who cleans up more pesky bugs like flies and gnats), and a centipede, who is just a pest, and while he doesn’t have much of ‘real life application’, he does come up with some pretty catchy songs which he sings and dances to for the entertainment of the rest of the group. He’s pretty darn feisty.
The tale twists and turns as you’d rightfully expect, and of course, there’s a happy ending. It’s short, sweet, and simply worded , the next poetical entertaining step up from Dr. Seuss — It’s an adventure your children will not soon forget.