One of Dahl’s earliest children’s novels is, like many of his stories, a fantastic, magical adventure that encourages both a sympathetic tone for the main character, and engages the reader with every page.
Welcome readers, this is the first of my book examination series on Roald Dahl. For this series I will share with you a bit about each book, and how this can be used in a classroom. Today we will be looking at James and the Giant Peach.
James and the Giant Peach was published in 1961, written of course by author Roald Dahl, with illustrations by the talented Quentin Blake, though earlier editions were illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert and others. Originally the book was to be called “James and the Giant Cherry”, but Dahl decided that a peach would be more fitting saying a peach was “prettier, bigger and squishier than a cherry.” The book received great critical acclaim upon its release, however it did receive criticism as well for what some audiences believed to be mature themes such as sexual innuendos, profanity, racism, and frightening content. Not only that but the book was accused as well of the promotion of disobedience, drugs, and communism. However that controversy did not stop the book’s success as it went on to win the Massachusetts Children’s Award in 1982, and was made into an equally successful film in 1996.
The book of course focuses on a boy named James, who after the tragic death of his parents from being eaten by a rhino after a trip to London, is then sent to live with his two wicked aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. While his life seems relatively melancholy his luck begins to change as an Old Man appears in the garden in the backyard, handing him what looks to be a pack of these magical green objects and that if he follows the instructions something wonderful will happen. However when James runs back home, trips, and the green objects fall into the ground, he figures that his luck has run out, but he is wrong.
His aunts yell for him, ecstatically pointing out that a peach has began to grow on their once barren peach tree and begin to plan a money making scheme out of it as it grows to an enormous size. James is basically told to stay out of the way and not to get involved.
Things do change however one night as James sneaks out of the house to see the peach, finding a tunnel near the bottom and as he reaches the centre, approaches a whole host of creatures living inside (Miss Spider, Centipede, Earthworm, Old-Green-Grasshopper, and others). A plan is then made for all to make their escape, so the peach is cut loose and rolls away into the ocean, crushing everything along the way including those two wicked aunts.
This is where the adventure begins for the group as they must learn to work together, face perils, and James finds the confidence he has been looking for. Of course there is a happy ending.
Classroom Connections: (Primary/Junior Level 3-6)
There are a number of resources that I was able to obtain in regards to this book.
Personally, one of my favourite ideas would be a character study. You could do this by looking at the personalities, attitudes, physical characteristics, and how they tie into the theme of the novel.
Theme itself is an important aspect to examine. What is the theme and how can it relate to us as the reader? There are a number of different directions to take, and Roald Dahl.com has some excellent resources and lesson plans for this book which I will share below.
You can do wonderful art activities in connection to literacy with this book as well. Have your students design their own garden or magical fruit. Have them describe it, what type of creatures might be living inside, and what magical adventure might they take.
For science, talk about the life cycle of plants, specifically how peaches grow, (the climate they need, the average size-compared to the book, different types, etc…) Draw illustrations and have students see what ideas they can come up with.
I will provide additional resources to lesson ideas for this book below. If you have any further ideas or would like to share some of your own lessons, please feel free to comment or send them to me!
Next on our Book Examination Series: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
James and the Giant Peach Lesson Plans (Roald Dahl Website)
Resources used in this post: