By Kay Mollica, AmeriCorps member serving on the State Street Foundation team with Higginson/Lewis K-8 School
Now that I have graduated from college and can read whatever I please, I have been devouring young adult literature, a far superior genre! There are so many amazing books with unique perspectives emphasizing the empowerment of children as protagonist. Really great finds as of late have been Wonder, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, and Eleanor and Park. However, one book that I would love to share with elementary school students would be a book that has certainly stood the test of time for me: Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World.
The story follows Danny; an active and happy boy in the beautifully described English countryside with his single father, William. The two live in a reconverted gypsy caravan and are mechanics that also run a little gas pump for their livelihood. Like every great story setup, everything was business as usual until something unexpected happed…
One evening, Danny’s genuine and ever-knowledgeable father is not in his bunk leading Danny to panic. It is later revealed that dear old Dad is from a long line of “poachers” who sneak into the gardens of the neighborhood’s bourgeois and poach or steal their expensive pheasants for adventure and daring as well as a delicious feast! Danny, now in the know, takes on these clever responsibilities bringing poaching to a revolutionary new level to save the pheasants from the immoral Mr. Hazell! This book has everything: espionage, an evil, indulgent villain, and pheasant avouchment for the all-important animal lover demographic.
Along with this book’s engaging plot comes several different student friendly themes. One specific theme addressed is change and how it should not be feared. This is illustrated when Dahl states that “…Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn't be exciting if they didn't.” This book reminds me that everything is interesting; particularly when you’re with the right company: “I was never bored. It was impossible to be bored in my father’s company. He was too sparky a man for that. Plots and plans and new ideas can flying off him like sparks from a grindstone.”
William is the ultimate teacher in that Danny’s independence is completely fostered and passed on thanks to his gentle teachings and expertise.
This book is hard to put down and is still very engaging after all these years. Children learn about others, empathy, history, and the world through fiction. It is an amazing resource and this book in particular is an often overlooked “power book” in the Roald Dahl library. It’s a must share for the elementary age!