Most suitable for 8-12 year olds (DISCLAIMER: yours truly re-read at age 17)
Roald Dahl was a tricky character. For a children's author, his novels are brimming with dark humour, razor sharp wit and masses of revolting humans – yet he is the inventor of some of literature’s best loved characters. Cast your mind over Willy Wonka, Matilda, and the Big Friendly Giant. All of these were invented by Dahl, a man dubbed by the media as everything from incredibly nasty to prized children's author.
Many of us are brought to Dahl by film versions of his books. Who can forget Augustus Gloop stuck inside a pipe, or gum popping Violet Beauregarde as a blueberry? What about the evil Miss Trunchball hurling Matilda's classmate over a fence?
Today’s review focuses on a lesser known novel of Dahl's – Danny the Champion of the World, published in 1975. In short: a tale of a boy and his dad living in a gypsy caravan, plotting against the horrible Mr Hazell, but in reality much more than that.
Danny and his father are two very sparky characters (for 'sparky' is the word used in the book) who live in the countryside, working as engineers. That is, until Danny is sent to school and his father’s greatest secret is revealed: he is a poacher. This meant nothing to me when I read it at ten years old, by the way.
It turns out that a poacher is a person who hunts other people’s property: essentially, they are thieves. Danny is at first horrified by this, but the focus of the book isn't so much the criminal goings on of his charming father, but the relationship between a young boy and his dad, who together form a plot so good it bamboozles every awful person within a three mile radius – a plot to kidnap as many pheasants as they can, using sleeping pills and raisins.
All I stress is that you read it. Even at 17, I was still thrilled by the story. With Dahl's magical writing and bright characters, you will end up wishing you could wash by candlelight, drive cars down dark lanes at night, race through woods to escape angry keepers (guards) and eat your winnings with all your friends from the village. I did, anyway.