One of legendary storyteller Roald Dahl's best-known books, James and the Giant Peach follows the titular character James Henry Trotter, a boy who loses his parents in a tragic rhinocerous accident. He is forced to live with his hated Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge in a house on a hill; the two evil aunts mistreat him and don't let him play with other children, instead demanding he do the work of maintaining the old house while they lounge around and yell at him.
One afternoon, while again being forced to do drudge work for his aunts, an odd old man appears and hands him a bag full of what appears to be tiny green "crocodile tongues" which will supposedly bring James happiness and great fortune when drunk with water. James, elated at this news, hurriedly rushes to his room to take the magic elixir, but accidentally spills the crocodile tongues on the ground next to a large, dead peach tree. As you might be able to guess from the title of the book, an enormous peach grows from that formerly-dead tree, and the rest of the book chronicles James's adventures with that peach and its very odd inhabitants.
Will the odd old man's promise of great fortune and adventure still come true for James?
You might have noticed that there are a lot of chapters for a relatively short book (39 chapters over 179 pages). This is because some of the chapters are very short; several aren't even a full page long. Due to this, it's pretty easy to cover multiple chapters in a single read-aloud session.
The voice cast is not very large; I believe I counted eleven speaking characters that show up for more than a couple of chapters. Voices for these characters are not very complex, as none of them are described to have any real distinguishing characteristics (excepting possible the Centipede, who is described explicitly as a "scoundrel"). The only thing I did while reading this book aloud was to make a particular character sound much older than the others by dropping my voice an octave lower. Otherwise, the characters can sound however you want them to sound.
There are a couple minor swearwords in this book, namely "ass" which is what Centipede calls a couple of other characters. I merely substituted a less inflammatory word ("idiot") in these instances.
I should note that James's hated aunts, Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge, are in fact killed by the peach as it goes rolling off the hill their house sits on. At my house, nobody really shed a tear for these characters, but be aware that the book explicitly describes them as having died because they couldn't get out of each other's way.
Finally, there's some historical commentary at the end of the book that will probably go right over your kids' heads. The peach eventually ends up hovering over New York City, and the denizens of the city think that it's a bomb. This book was published during the height of the Cold War, and so I am unsure if this is Dahl's depiction of what people would actually do should they see a giant hovering fruit above their city or if he's just poking fun at Americans. Either way, it doesn't detract from the story very much.
Other than that, there's no sex, no real violence, only minor peril, and no other language. Therefore I can comfortably recommend this book to kids of all ages.
A had the best reaction to the book. After reading the first few chapters, in which James's parents are eaten by a rhinocerous, he goes to live with Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge, and encounters an old man who gives him a bag full of moving green crystals that look like tiny effervescent bugs that the old man calls "crocodile tongues", he decided that all he could say was:
"That was strange."
Which, to be honest, is an apt summary of the entire book.
B wasn't really a big fan, though not because of the story itself. He was going through a phase in which he only liked non-fiction books, and as such decided that he didn't like this book merely because it wasn't non-fiction. I pointed out that he loves the Harry Potter series, to which he deadpanned:
"Fine. I only like non-fiction and Harry Potter."
He still laughed at the funny parts, so he was listening. He just decided that he didn't like it. That's OK by me; not everyone is going to like every book, and I told him such.
Finally, we have K's opinion:
"They broke a RAINBOW! I didn't know that was possible! How do you break rain?!"
You'll have to read the book to find out what she means. :)
James and the Giant Peach is a whimsical adventure with a boy, some giant bugs, and a humongous peach. Dahl's humorous and surprisingly dark writing style is in full form here, and Blake's oddly-formed illustrations drive home that this is, as A called it earlier, a "strange" book. Nevertheless, it's a perfect read-aloud book for kids of any age, and a good gateway into Dahl's vast library of children's novels that teach them to wonder, think, and do.
Recommended Age: 4 and up