James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

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Critical Context

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

James and the Giant Peach is a modern classic that has established a permanent position in children’s libraries. Roald Dahl frequently commented that he owed his writing success to the bedtime stories that he created for his own children, and this book reads as if the author were telling a remarkable story to a group of children sitting at his feet. The book maintains this chatty feeling throughout, which makes it a perfect read-aloud choice. Chapters are short and frequently end with cliffhangers that leave the reader, or listener, begging for more.

These attributes, and the delightful illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, afford a sense of accomplishment for reluctant readers. For the same reasons, the book accommodates younger readers whose attention spans allow them to attempt chapter books. As a combination of fantasy and fairy tale, James and the Giant Peach provides a gratifying introduction into more difficult fantasies such as C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956), Robert C. O’Brien’s Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), or Lynn Reid Banks’s The Indian in the Cupboard (1981).