Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Synopsis: When James Henry Trotter’s parents are killed in a tragic rhinoceros attack, he is sent to live with his horrible aunts, Sponge and Spiker. After three years of abuse and mistreatment, his luck finally turns around when a mysterious old man bequeaths him with some crystals guaranteed to cause “magical, fabulous, unbelievable” things to happen. When James accidentally drops the magical crystals beneath an old peach tree in his yard, the first peach in decades begins to grow, only stopping when it is the size of a house. Inside, James meets a variety of new, over-sized insect friends. With a snip of the peach stem, James and his friends roll away from his lonely life and towards adventure.
Review: While I saw the movie version of James and the Giant Peach as a child, I’ve actually never read the book up until now. As a big fan of Roald Dahl (especially Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and Matilda), I was excited to finally get to this classic. I did enjoy watching James’ transformation from miserable, lonely child to capable, beloved problem-solver. I also liked the different personalities of each of the insects, as well as the creativity and imagination that Dahl infused into the story. Overall, I think that kids will love the fantastical elements and sense of adventure, and that most of the semi-inappropriate character comments (see below) will go over their heads. I rated James and the Giant Peach three stars, however, because it is definitely not my favorite Dahl book. I did find some of the prose off-putting and mildly offensive. And I wish that Dahl had given a little more backstory on each of the insects, as they are perhaps the best part of the novel.
Reason for Ban/Challenge: Because James and the Giant Peach occasionally has grim and potentially frightening content (such as when Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker are killed or when the peach plummets towards New York City), it has often faced opposition from parents. From 1990 – 2000, James and the Giant Peach ranked 56th on the the American Library Association list of the 100 most frequently challenged books. Reasons for the ban have also included that the book references drugs and alcohol, contains inappropriate language (the word “ass” is used several times), encourages disobedience to parents, contains racially-charged remarks, and exhibits “magical elements.” In all fairness, I did cringe when the Old-Green-Grasshopper said, “I’d rather be fried alive and eaten by a Mexican!” But I would definitely like to challenge any book challenge that is based on the presence of “magical elements.” Fantasy is a genre, people! “Magical elements” are the whole point. Overall, I think that the pros of this book will far outweigh the very few cons.