Many children’s books are carefully penned by their authors to educate and inform. These kinds of books have lots of vocabulary words and a strong central message that helps to shape a child’s moral character and mental aptitude as s/he grows into adolescence. James and the Giant Peach is NOT one of those books. It doesn’t have vocabulary words, nor does it really teach anything or have a clear message. But it does one thing incredibly well: it entertains. The pure entertainment value is why James and the Giant Peach is considered a classic of children’s literature, as anyone who has read it with a child, or as a child, can tell you. And, as author Richard McKenna once said: “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” James and the Giant Peach fits this bill perfectly.
After his parents are eaten by a rhinoceros that had escaped from the London Zoo, James is sent to live with his two cruel aunts. One day, James meets an old man who gives him a magic potion that promises to bring James happiness. But, in his haste to get home before his aunts get even angrier at him, James trips and spills the potion underneath an old, dried-out peach tree. The next day, one huge peach is growing from the tree’s bare branches. Eventually, James discovers a group of human-sized insects living inside the peach pit. The insects welcome James as the final member of their rag-tag group, and soon they break the peach away from the tree to tumble into the wackiest adventure of all time.
With its outlandish humor and fantastic imagery, both of which are perfectly tailored to a child’s sensibilities, I often suggest James and the Giant Peach to young reluctant readers. The simple, matter-of-fact language is easy to follow and visualize, the plot’s shenanigans is top-notch, and the story always leaves you wondering what’s going to happen next.