This was one of my favorite books growing up, and reading it again all these years later, I find that I love it as much now as I did when I was 8. Having spent the last few years watching multiple viewings of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka), I ended up surprised on a few occasions when I realized that scenes from the movie – such as the Fizzy Lifting Drinks scene when Charlie and Grandpa have to belch their way down from certain doom – were not in the book after all! While the movie retained much of Roald Dahl’s dark comic humor, nothing beats the book, and Dahl’s wry observations on rude children and the parents who indulge them, and how the meek inherit… well, if not the earth, at least a lifetime’s supply of chocolate.
Charlie Bucket is starving – no, really, he is. He lives with his mother, father, and four sickly grandparents, who are so old and sick that they never get out of bed. Father has a menial job screwing the caps onto toothpaste tubes, and they family is very poor. They are so poor, all they can eat is cabbage soup, and Charlie refuses to take more than his share. Every day he walks past the famous chocolatier Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and lifts his nose, inhaling the delicious smells; the only time he gets to enjoy a Wonka bar is on his birthday.
It all changes when Willy Wonka announces a contest where five winners will be allowed to tour the chocolate factory – and Charlie is holding one of the Golden Tickets. Grandpa Joe, his elderly grandfather who retains the joy and wonder of youth, jumps out of bed and insists that he go with him, and they’re off. Charlie meets the four other winners – the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, spoiled brat Veruca Salt, TV addict Mike Teavee, and boorish Violet Beauregarde – and their overly indulgent parents at the gates of the factory, and when Willy Wonka’s gates open for the first time in years, the fun really begins. Who will make it through the factory tour?
Dahl’s writing weaves words into pictures that are enhanced by Joseph Schindelman’s black and white illustrations. From Willy Wonka’s mysterious origins to the Oompa Loompa’s cautionary songs, this book is Mr. Dahl’s morality play. It’s a great reminder of the golden rules as children enter into the middle grades: be polite. Don’t be a bully. Share. Don’t be a glutton or have bad manners. Modesty and a humble demeanor reap their own rewards. Reading Dahl is like Emily Post for kids, but with chocolate rivers and candy flowers.
Roald Dahl is a well-known classic children’s author. There is an inactive wiki that appeared to be the start of a comprehensive body of work with 106 articles; there is a call to revive it on the home page. There is also a wonderful Roald Dahl website that is animated and features links to the Roald Dahl store, museum, and his children’s charity. The site features a “book chooser” that will match kids with a “splendiferous read” of his, a biography on the author, and a “Wonkalator” – a calculator game that asks kids to help Wonka with his latest magical formula.