Lighting up Children’s Lit: Roald Dahl

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The people who made a difference: 3) Roald Dahl

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

The Minpins, Roald Dahl

Portrait of Roald Dahl by Carl Van Vechten, 1954. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Original location: Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress.

What is your most memorable Roald Dahl moment? Whether you have read his novels or seen adaptations of them, you will recognise his distinctive, marvellous darkly comic style (don’t forget he is also famous for his Tales of the Unexpected). Matilda, Charlie, Willy Wonka, the Enormous Crocodile and the BFG are some of the characters we have loved meeting and getting to know. I still feel amazed by children’s reactions to their first Roald Dahl story and seeing how it immediately enchants.

Roald Dahl’s life is just as fantastic as his stories, and in this lesson we invite you and your students and fellow readers to embark on a journey to learn more about it.

THE MARVELLOUS WORLD OF ROALD DAHL

We have divided his life into 3 sections. Ask the class to form groups and choose one of the sections. Then get them to search the Internet (the Roald Dahl official website or the Wikipedia site dedicated to his life can be good starting points) and answer the questions. When they are ready with this, they can prepare a small presentation.

We will explore the following topics.

  • His life
  • Being a writer
  • Playful language
  • Fascinating facts

HIS LIFE (1916-1990)

1 Childhood and school years

  1. Where was he born?
  2. Where did he get the name ‘Roald’ from?
  3. What was Dahl’s first language?
  4. Where were his parents born?
  5. Where was he born?
  6. What tragedies happened in his family?
  7. How many schools did he go to?
  8. Did he like school?
  9. What bad experiences did he have at school?

2 Travels and becoming a WWII pilot

  1. Where did he travel after school?
  2. Which company did he work for?
  3. Where did his company send him?
  4. What accident happened to him?
  5. How long did he stay in Alexandria after this accident?
  6. What is a fighter ace? How did he become one?
  7. Why did he stop being a pilot?

3 Living in the U.S. and becoming a writer

  1. Where did he live in the U.S.?
  2. How did he become a spy for the MI6?
  3. How did he know Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond stories?
  4. What was the inspiration of his first story, The Gremlins written in 1943?
  5. What was his first story written for adults?

BEING A WRITER

“You have to keep your bottom on the chair and stick it out. Otherwise, if you start getting in the habit of walking away when you’re stuck you’ll never get it done.”

The Author’s Eye Notebook, Roald Dahl

After World War II Dahl started publishing stories for children and adults .

His grown-up home

He lived in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire from 1954 until his death in 1990.

  1. Find this place on the map, and find information about the village on the Internet.
  2. What was the name of his house in Missenden?

Dahl’s works

  1. How many children’s novels did he write?
  2. What stories did he write for adults?
  3. Are his stories available in your language?

Writing habits

Find information about his writing place, the Writing Hut. One of his friends built this place for him. It was inspired by the great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas’s Writing Shed.

Visit the webpages on the Roald Dahl official website and learn more about the Writing Hut and Dahl’s writing process.

PLAYFUL LANGUAGE

Dahl is famous for inventing new words (over 500!) which are naturally comphrensible for readers. Some of his words have become widely used in the English language. We can learn a lot from his creativity and try some of his techniques. In 2016, to celebrate his 100th birthday, the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary was published.

Here’s a fun article about his words from the Guardian :

What do you think these words mean? Try saying them out loud and have fun translating them if you can!

  • frightsome
  • swogswallowed
  • frobscottle
  • biffsquiggled
  • scrumdiddlyumptious
  • lickswishy

Learn more about the following literary devices:

  • spoonerism
  • onomatopoeia
  • malapropism

Create your own examples for each one.

FASCINATING FACTS

There are a lot of details about Dahl’s life which will amaze you.

  1. How tall was he?
  2. How did Norwegian tales influence his life?
  3. How did he and his fellow students become chocolate tasters?
  4. What is the Wade-Dahl-Till (WDT) valve?
  5. What is the name of Dahl’s charity? What does it support?
  6. Who were his favourite authors?
  7. How did he become a ‘New Elizabethan’? What does it mean?
  8. How many times was he married?
  9. How many children did he have?
  10. What was special about his funeral?

Visit the website of the museum dedicated to Roald Dahl:


We recommend the other lessons in this series:

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