mini-review: re-reads of childhood classics

I’ve been trying to re-read one of my favourite childhood books every month, so I thought that I would periodically update you about my thoughts!

In January I started off strong with Matilda by Roald Dahl. I recently re-watched the movie and last year I saw the play, so the story was pretty strong in my memory. But there were a couple of things about the writing and the illustrations that really surprised me.

First of all, HOLY FATPHOBIA. I had not clocked how fatphobic this book is in regards to Miss Trunchbull. A lot of her horror comes from her size – she does not look like a woman, especially in contrast to the tiny and petite Miss Honey. Miss Trunchbull is described as ‘She was a gigantic holy terror, a fierce tyrannical monster…’ Her fatness is intrinsic to her monstrosity. This made me really uncomfortable. (For more thoughts about this, I recommend Lindy West’s Shrill, where she talks about the fat characters she came across in her childhood.)

On an illustration front, the drawings by Quentin Blake were as delightful as I remembered. (I once got to see the originals, but unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures.) It might be because some people on Twitter talk about how the Miss Honey from the movie was part of their queer awakening, but I also felt like the illustrations made her look quite queer as well.


Just me?

Finally, I was impressed with how readable it was, and how many difficult words there were. For a kid’s book, it had a really high vocabulary. I don’t want to be all grumpy and old and say that kid’s books don’t use language in the same way anymore but….. that might actually be true.

In February I read Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. I don’t know if this is technically a children’s book, but I read it about 15 times when I was younger, so I’m counting it. I’d recently re-watched the Studio Ghibli movie, but the two are so different that they can’t really be compared. (I’d definitely be down for writing a post comparing the two, if you’d be interested.) It was just as entertaining as I remembered, and I flew through it.

I don’t have too many thoughts on the book, but I did notice this time how intricately plotted it was, and how all of the strands of plot came together in the last couple of chapters just beautifully. It’s still a little chaotic, because there are so many characters, but it is supposed to be chaotic. I’d like to read more Diana Wynne Jones books to see whether all of them are like this.

4 thoughts on “mini-review: re-reads of childhood classics

  1. christine @ lady gets lit says:

    First of all, I love that you’re re-reading books from childhood. It’s something I do every couple of years specifically with Anne of Green Gables, but I definitely want to incorporate this more in my reading (although idk how considering how much I’m already taking on…)

    It’s interesting that you pointed out the fatphobia in this book. I definitely didn’t recognize it as a child, but it’s always amazing how many of our old faves end up being problematic, especially when you look at the time period they were written and popularized. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been struggling to catch up on classics – I’m afraid of the racism/sexism/homophobia/etc. that I might find in these books from other eras.

    What I remember from Matilda most is her feeling ostracized by her family, mostly because she likes to read. My family wasn’t abusive or intolerant of my reading, but I was often more interested in reading than doing anything else, and I felt really misunderstood by my family as well as my peers. Reading Matilda was the first time I felt really seen in that sense.


  2. Grab the Lapels says:

    I thought I read another blogger’s post about Howl’s Moving Castle recently, but I don’t think she compared the book and the movie, just said they are different. Children’s books DEFINITELY used to be harder. Get an unabridged copy of Anne of Green Gables and read the first paragraph. It’s one sentence, full of varying clauses and phrases. I never read those books as a girl because I couldn’t get through that first sentence (I finally read them 2-3 summers ago). I think the theatre where work is going to do Matilda the Musical. Did you see a straight play or musical version?


  3. colorfulbookreviews says:

    Both versions of Howl’s Moving Castle are loved around here too, but as you said, they really are so different it’s barely the same thing. Have you read the sequels? The Chrestomanci series is pretty good as well, if you accept that only some books are about the Chrestomanci, and most are just set in the same universe. DWJ has some lovely intricate plots, although she stumbles in some books. What other books from your childhood do you plan to reread?


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