Quick! Hide under the covers. Scaring oneself at a sleepover is a childhood rite of passage. Scary and horrific situations are experienced by us at an early age, yet people seem to be hesitant to market the genre to children. This sentiment is silly and unfair. The world isn’t perfect and excitement can go both ways – it can both be harmful and good. Horror is the same way. Adding age appropriate scares to children’s lives will enhance their experiences of the world and enable them to grow better as individuals. Slowly being introduced to something is much better than being dunked into it at age 15. Instead of banning the subject from you children, introduce it to them in a comfortable and age appropriate manner. Try Roald Dahl for starters. He uses the macabre and scary to weave intriguing stories for children, yet he still toes the line of common decency with his upper crust British genteelly.
Below are my top Roald Dahl books to read to your children at night. They are also accompanied by wonderful films that will delight your kids.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—I was originally hesitant to put this book on the list. There has been so much said about this book and various film adaptions (the best version being the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder) that I had to make sure I could offer something new to the conversation. The reason I ultimately put the book on the list was due to the dreadful feeling I had about Charlie, his upbringing and Mr. Wonka himself. Charlie lives in poverty, experiencing a life that is tough and miserable. As a kid, I never knew anyone that was constantly hungry and had mud in their pants. It made me realize that there are people in the world that suffer, sometimes needlessly. Roald Dahl is the pied piper in his stories. He lets the young reader brush with the horrors of reality in a safe manner—like that of a child viewing a shark in an aquarium.
- Fantastic Mr. Fox – the book has received positive attention in recent years due to childhood whimsy director, Wes Anderson 2010 re-imagining of the novel. Again, with all of his works, Dahl shows the bleakness and desperation a family undergoes through a child’s eyes. While scary in parts (particularly the malevolence the farmers have regarding the fox family), the terrors are there to enhance the joys. If something is continuously safe, it becomes boring. Mr. Fox’s family is to be eaten, yet they outsmart and escape the farmer’s clutches. An event such as that is enjoyable to read.
- James and the Giant Peach — Death and abandonment is pervasive in Dahl’s fictional universes. James’ parents are eaten by a rhino and he is sent to an abusive household run by his horrible aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Of course he escapes in a giant peach with his insect friends and had fantastic adventures. All this doesn’t detract from the depressing beginning. Child abuse is never joyous and James’ broken spirit comes across plainly on in the story. The deepness of valleys illuminates the highest of mountains. Dahl uses the human emotional similarly. Depressive situations make sweet retribution that are more enjoyable to read. Seeing James’ horrible aunts arrested is sweet indeed.