A gypsy caravan, a fire balloon and a Baby Austin

By Vita Forest

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This week was the 100th Birthday of that master storyteller, that teller of tales – Roald Dahl. We are reading one of his novels at school at the moment.  It’s probably my favourite, though not his most famous, it is Danny the Champion of the World.  It’s a kind of love letter from a boy to his beautiful Dad, with even a little preview of the B.F.G. thrown in.

This book holds many personal memories for me too.  When Max was about to turn six, he broke his arm falling up some concrete steps.  After visiting the hospital and being given a temporary splint, we were told to return in the morning for his bones to be set.  Max spent a painful night falling in and out of sleep until he just couldn’t sleep at all.  So to distract him, I curled up beside him and read to him through the night.  I read aloud of Danny’s adventures in Hazel Wood, of fixing cars, and of living in a gypsy caravan with his Dad. We read nearly the entire book in that one sitting, Max’s eyes wide above the covers, his arm strapped over his heart.

I have read it aloud to two classes now, the first being a Year 1 class a couple of years ago.  That class contained Frederica, an amazing young writer, who created a quite startling “innovation on the text”  adding another vignette, using the same characters and setting and taking the story in a slightly different direction.  She wrote a whole sequence based on the villain Mr Victor Hazel, who dropped his “aitches” but then attached them to other vowels.  This seven year old girl worked out how this tick would operate and wrote with relish – it was very impressive!

I remember reading aloud a scene in the woods with pheasants, and keepers with guns, and Danny and his Dad creeping about in the twilight.  As I read, the kids acted it out, scampering about the floor under desks, around chairs, necks jerking as they pecked at imaginary raisins flung into their midst by Danny.

That year, and again this year, some kids have independently  borrowed copies of the book from the library (which they keep in their tote trays with their own personal bookmarks to follow along as I read).  Miss Dahlia, who recently turned 7, even spent a precious birthday book voucher investing in her own copy of this marvellous book.

We have made our own gypsy caravan artworks, they currently festoon the walls of my classroom with their brightly decorated exteriors and even 3-D shutters from which images of my students peer out.

We have learned new words – gypsy caravan, pheasant, filling station, Baby Austin and fire balloon.  We have imagined visiting Danny and living with him in the gypsy caravan, eating apples from the tree and walking through the countryside to Hazel’s Wood.  And we have compared ourselves with Danny on a Venn Diagram, noting that we are lucky enough to have a Mum, while Danny only has a Dad, he already knows how to drive, but does not appear to play soccer, but Danny and my class all like apples.  One boy thought that Danny’s life was exciting while his was not (he has already forgotten his recent ski trip).

We have been driving with Danny in the dead of night through the narrow country lanes in the Baby Austin, hardly breathing as he struggles to change gears and eyes wide in alarm as a police car roars by just as he nears the turn off to Hazel’s Wood…

It’s never too early or too late for Roald Dahl.  Happy Birthday!

What are your Roald Dahl memories?

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