13th September is Roald Dahl Day. The date was chosen because this was his birthday.
The name Roald Dahl is spoken with such reverence by teachers and librarians. Surely he is the greatest children’s writer of all time? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Fantastic Mr Fox. James and the Giant Peach. The names are so familiar now. If Roald Dahl was a category on the quiz show Pointless, the contestants would really struggle to think of a Roald Dahl title that no one else knows. Roald Dahl is famous. Everyone has heard of him. Every child has read his books.
But I have a confession to make.
I have only ever read one of Roald Dahl’s books.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
I really loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was a book I owned, rather than one I borrowed from the library, so I read it many times. This is the cover of my edition. I’m afraid I don’t know the illustrator’s name but it doesn’t look like Quentin Blake.
This book sat on my shelf in among a hotch-potch of other titles by lots of different authors. I didn’t have complete sets. I only had the Voyage of the Dawntreader, not the whole Chronicles of Narnia. (Was it called The Chronicles of Narnia back then?)
There was no requirement to buy the complete set of Roald Dahl’s books for children. I don’t even know if they existed as a set.
I read books based on the cover or the blurb or a recommendation. Once I had read that book, I read something else and it may have been by a different author. In my case, it was definitely written by a different author. I didn’t even know who the author was.
There were some series, like The Little House on the Prairie. I read all of those. But I don’t think the author as a brand existed back then. So I wasn’t compelled to read the complete works of a selected author. I loved the Flambards books by KM Peyton, but I didn’t read anything else by her.
I wasn’t interested in authors, I was interested in books and because I wasn’t caught up on a wave of a phenomenon, I read very widely. Much more widely than my children do. Sad but true
I’m an author now and I hope that children will want to read my books. Most will be read because of the awesome covers or the exciting blurb on the back. Some will be read because a teacher or a parent has seen a review and some will be read because the child has met me at an event and is curious enough to know what this mad book woman is on about. I am unlikely to become a phenomenon. I’m not sure I want to be.
So enjoy Roald Dahl day. Read his books. Marvel at the illustrations by Quentin Blake. Laugh at the antics of the crazy characters, but next time you go to a library or a bookshop, pick up a book by an author you have never heard of. Read it. You might be surprised.
A book does not have to be a phenomenon to be a great read.