Last month, we invited readers to share their response to a writing prompt inspired by Sarah Curtis Graziano's essay, "Why We Still Need Ramona's Realism" and Erika D. Walker's essay, "Farewell to the Boy Wizard." We asked readers to tell us how children's literature influenced their parenting. Below is Kristin Wagner's response.
Roald Dahl, Candies, and Tyrants
By Kristin Wagner
When my youngest was four, his school sent home copies of The BFG by Roald Dahl and asked families to read the book together. That began our summer of Roald Dahl; once we finished The BFG we read, in rapid succession, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Matilda, and of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I was the sort of kid who read cookbooks as if they were exciting novels and who invented new lands to be included in a Candyland expansion pack, so Charlie was the clear front-runner for me. We have a book of recipes developed from Roald Dahl books and so you can really make marshmallow pillows, lickable wallpaper, and hot ice cream for a cold day. My youngest wants to make toffee-apple trees and candy-coated pencils for sucking in class, though I must admit after making and cleaning up from dinner I don't have a lot of energy for treats that Ooompa-Loompas usually make.
When I asked my nine-year-old which book was his favorite, Charlie doesn't even crack the top three. His clear favorite is Matilda. When I asked him why, he gave me a vague answer, "Well the characters, the words, the way they're written." I suppressed a giggle and tried again, "So, what is your favorite part?"
He answered, "When the lizard thing falls into Trunchbull's water glass, and then the cup falls over."
"So you like it best once Trunchbull gets her comeuppance?"
Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of Matilda's school, is quite a villain: ugly, mean, and capricious. She towers over tiny Matilda like a black storm cloud and rules as a dictator. The other children defy her here and there: when she tries to humiliate student Bruce Bogtrotter by making him eat an entire cake and get sick, he is cheered on by the other students and finishes it to her disbelief. Lavender, another student, slips a slimy newt into Miss Trunchbull's water glass. Matilda herself uses her telekinesis to make Miss Trunchbull think she is being haunted, and she finally runs off never to come back.
Being a child, at the whim and mercy of adults, is a scary proposition. The unfairness is intolerable, but must be endured because they depend on these big ugly creatures for everything. Matilda gave my son champions against tyranny.
I love that my son has a blueprint for recognizing when adults are not working in his favor and has found a way to resist such bullying. I love that I have a beautiful example of who not to be when parenting. Whenever I think to myself, am I behaving like Miss Trunchbull? Am I being yelly and grouchy and unreasonable? I can change course and work on making Frobscottle with my kids or risk a deserved newt in my water glass.
Kristin Wagner taught high school English before staying home with her two sons, and now she writes creative nonfiction. Her essays have been published in Full Grown People, Mothers Always Write, Mamanomnom, and several other publications. A native of the Chicagoland area, she posts regularly about kids, food, pop culture and how chronic illness impacts the first three at her website.