Celebrating Roald Dahl Day
Roald Dahl is the master of magic. He weaves his words in wisps of wonder and captures the essence of what it means to be a child. Each year his birthday tumbles around and we must take this as an opportunity to remember what it means to imagine and to create new and different worlds. We should work to inspire our young people to join us in Roald Dahl’s mind and in so doing continue his magic.
What events and strategies can we bring to our classrooms and homes to celebrate this great man’s day? Here are a few possibilities that will bring some of the amazing, whacky, weird, wonderful, incredible worlds of Dahl to your space.
A Life Lived Wonderfully
It is well worth telling the stories from Roald Dahl’s life and the wonderful events that inspired his imagination. The Great Mouse Plot is worth recounting in class, the story of impressionable youngsters who played a trick that they worried had gone so horribly wrong. It was the time Dahl thought he murdered the horrendous sweet shop owner – though she had only been startled.
Better still tell of the time when Roald Dahl was a heroic fighter pilot in the second world war and the tales of the men he fought alongside. All too often writers are seen as dusty and bookish. To give students the chance to imagine that this writer lived a life of excitement and adventure too could be all the inspiration they need.
Spending some time reading extracts from Boy and Going Solo can help children see the man behind the books. If you are hoping to bring learning to the lessons, it could be that you encourage them to think how these events inspired Roald Dahl’s characters. Look at Matilda to see how the great mouse plot came to life in fantasy.
Totally Weird Tea Party
One of Dahl’s greatest gifts is to bring the world of food to life – whether it is through The Twits and their weird diet or through Willy Wonka and his amazing sweets. All his foods are based in real meals and can easily be recreated – there are cook books with recipes ready and waiting.
One way to celebrate Roald Dahl day would be to have the most amazingly weird tea party, where children can be encouraged to bring in their own edible delights created from their own imagination. If children want to follow the recipes that exist already then this could be a wonderful lunchtime experience. However, if you want to teach descriptive writing and the use of imperatives – along with some ideas of food – you can encourage children to create their own recipes.
Even on a basic level – you can teach children to name these amazing foods they create and play with words. This is at the heart of what makes Dahl such fun – is that he plays with all the rules or words and sentences.
Everyone has a strong opinion about which is the best book ever written by Dahl. The BFG is a strong favourite with the gentle giant protecting our dreams and showing such bravery. However, others would say The Witches. The stage play has brought Matilda to a brand new audience. Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka has made Charlie and the Chocolate Factory so cool. Though, for an English teacher it might be the first Dahl book they read – like Danny the Champion of the World and the sleeping pheasants.
This great expanse of characters can come alive in a classroom through a mass debate on which of Dahl’s characters are the best. You could split your group into books and encourage them to challenge for the best characters in the Dahl world award. Of course, this could be made more powerful through dressing up – you cannot let a Roald Dahl day pass by without a huge papier mache peach in your classroom.
The best costumes with the best speeches about why a group’s book is the most amazing ever written – it covers persuasive speaking, it covers group work, it encourages cooperation and it is a celebration of imaginative characters.
The wonderful world of Dahl is so brilliant because of his gobblefunk. It is his whizzpopping vocabulary that makes The BFG so amazing to read out loud to children. The snoozcumber is a particulate favourite but this comes close to crumpscoddle, swallomp and humplecrimp.
Playing with language is the greatest way to make it fun and engaging for young children (and slightly older children who never grew up!) First, it is about listening to the sounds of phonemes and considering if these are fun, or scary, or angry. From these sounds you can create verbs – creating nonsense sounds and ending them in “ing” and “ed” to teach tense. Children can decide what the sound of the word means in their own dictionary. It is also a great way of teaching compounding – the bringing together of nouns to create new nouns – that draws on the imagery behind each of the words.
Why not devote a display board or wall to a dictionary of nonsense words with illustrations and poems that draw all the words together?
Become a Dahl Apprentice
Ultimately, we want our little people to become inspired to be master story-tellers just like Roald Dahl. By immersing our children in the stories and characters of Roald Dahl, we hope to inspire his creativity and wonderful world of thinking in a new generation.
This should start with an investigation into the characters, plots and events from Dahl’s books. Reading extracts, labelling illustrations, exploring how Dahl builds excitement and twists and turns in his work. It is about helping children see what skills lies behind the magic. The end-point for your exploration of Dahl’s stories is to create a new generation of Dahl apprentices.
Encourage children to make up their own wonderful plots and wonderful characters. It might be that you use story generators – giving children a setting or an event to build their new world around. Alternatively, you can give them freedom to make up characters like the giants, the witches, the gamekeepers, the brave young children who always seem to be heroic.
The overall message to teachers, parents, older brothers and sisters is to have fun with Dahl’s stories. Reading and writing and making up stories is meant to be exciting and enjoyable. Whatever you do to bring his stories, language and life to a new generation will be a powerful reminder of why our imagination is what makes us human.