Roald Dahl: a family builds a love of books

Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl, illus. Quentin Blake

Our Roald Dahl collection started entirely by accident, but that’s often the case when collecting books, isn’t it?

When I married my husband, I had a son from a previous relationship. As is expected, the two hadn’t quite found the moment that clicked between them. My son was preschool age and generally regarded my husband as the tall, odd man that fed and bathed him. My husband was (is) a tall, odd man who wanted nothing more than to lavish his new stepson with all manner of love and be-spoil-ment. Then one night, purely by chance or else divine intervention, I got called into work to cover a late shift.

I got home right as bath-time was accomplished, pajamas administered, and my son was running down the hall to pick out a bedtime story. Normally I did story-time in his room, squatting awkwardly next to his tiny bed, but I was content to watch and see how my husband might do things differently.

When my son came pelting out of his room with no books in hand and swerved for the living room of our tiny apartment, I nearly stopped him. I’m glad I didn’t.

He ran right up to our book case and snagged the well-loved copy of Danny, Champion of the World my husband bought the week before from a thrift store in a flight of whimsy. I’ll never know if it was the colorful cover–a smiling, blonde-haired boy with arms spread wide, done in classic Quentin Blake style–or simply that it was the first one he grabbed, that caused him to pick it over his then-favorite, Harold and the Purple Crayon (which I could recite with eyes closed). I stood by the doorway, silent, and let him run right back to our bedroom.

I busied myself with dishes and the sort of straightening up that comes of having a preschooler and a new husband in a two-bedroom apartment. Then, when dishwasher whirred grumpily and the last of the toys had been swept to the corner, I came into the bedroom to find them both passed out in the center of our little double-bed, stepfather and stepson snuggled together, a battered copy of Roald Dahl’s ode to fathers and sons wedged between them.

With that one night, that one thirty-minute story-time, came a priceless bonding experience that led to a nighttime routine that lasted the next several months. It led to a burgeoning little collection, as husband and stepson went on jaunts to the bookstore for their next Roald Dahl book, and the one after. But only the ones with Quentin Blake’s illustrations, because they simply weren’t right without them. At this point we own all but one or two of his works, period. Even the adult stuff, though that certainly hasn’t been shared with the kids.

Whether through nostalgia, or building these sorts of memories with one’s own children, driven by the love of the thing or the quest for rare signed copies and first editions, collecting children’s books is definitely a worthwhile endeavor. Few collections can be so rewarding, or come with so much love. I look forward to passing our Dahl books along if my older son ever has children–or, if I’m extra lucky, that they’ll find their own author to share, and then my husband and I can spoil our future grandchildren with Dahl, too.

“A message to the children who have read this book. When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants–and DESERVES–is a parent who is SPARKY!” –Roald Dahl, Danny, Champion of the World

(And, in case you were wondering, Danny is still one of his favorite books, even though he’s nine now. Our younger son, six, is rather partial to James and the Giant Peach.)


  • What a lovely article! It brings me back to a time when my daughter was a baby & required me to read her favorite book every night. By the time she was a year old I had memorized the Dr. Seuss classic -Green eggs & ham & now 30 years later I can still recite most of it from memory. The love of books is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give to a child.

    • Sarah, you are exactly right! From the time I found out about my first child, I promised I would I’d do my best to read insatiable bookworms. It’s been difficult, between video games and ADHD, but I feel like they’ve got the bug, and I couldn’t be more proud.

    • For real! One of the things I love about his style is the simple fact that he’s got this lovely, polite dry wit, and he never condescends to his target audience. They’re not so much “children’s books” as they are books to be enjoyed by any age group, which makes them so wonderful to share.

      • I feel the Dahl books are good for boys, but young girls need to see themselves as the main characters of books too! Unfortunately the main characters (human and animal) in children’s books are so overwhelmingly male. I think this portrayal of male default really hinders girl’s self esteem, and as parents, we really need to take a close look at that. Noticing the titles of all of the books you mentioned, each with a boy protagonist made me want to share my thoughts on this. Thanks!

        • I couldn’t agree more. Making sure young girls have representation is vital. Come to think of it, almost all of the books I loved at that age had male protagonists–I remember pretending to be Omri from Indian in the Cupboard the most vividly!

          Just in lieu of Dahl, I remember loving Matilda as a kid, but yes, unfortunately he and many other classic children’s authors leaned heavily on male protagonists. I think that’s one aspect of children’s literature that’s changing, and I’m glad to see it happen.

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