These Books Made Me

Matilda

September 08, 2021 Prince George's County Memorial Library System Season 1 Episode 7
These Books Made Me
Matilda
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We take a break from the American Girls (in more ways than one!) this week to discuss a British childhood classic of both page and screen, Roald Dahl's "Matilda". Matilda is a quintessential bookworm who uses her unmatched smarts and special powers to triumph over her less than ideal surroundings dominated by neglectful and at times abusive adults. In this episode, Hannah, Kelsey, and special guest/Matilda enthusiast Sarah discuss the eternal art vs. the artist debate, examine the various tropes of womanhood present, and *gasp* - consider whether the movie might be better than the book?! We also talk to Dr. Margaret Peterson from the College of Education at the University of Maryland about the depiction of teachers in children's literature. 

These Books Made Me is a podcast about the literary heroines who shaped us and is a product of the Prince George's County Memorial Library System podcast network. Stay in touch with us via Twitter @PGCMLS with #TheseBooksMadeMe or by email at TheseBooksMadeMe@pgcmls.info. For recommended readalikes and deep dives into topics related to each episode, visit our blog at https://pgcmls.medium.com/.                                       
                                       
We mentioned a lot of topics and articles in this episode. Here’s a brief list of some of them if you want to do your own further research:

Roald Dahl Family Apology for Anti-Semitic comments: https://www.roalddahl.com/global/rdsc-and-family-notice
Analysis of anti-semitism in Roald Dahl's works and personal life: https://time.com/5937507/roald-dahl-anti-semitism/
Racism in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: https://www.processhistory.org/yacovone-dahl-racism/4/
Roald Dahl's life: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/wales/articles/the-story-of-roald-dahl/
Nell Stevens article that Kelsey cites re: at vs. artist debate: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/sep/10/should-we-stop-reading-authors-lives-books-vs-naipaul?CMP=twt_books_b-gdnbooks
Vox article about art and artists: https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/10/11/17933686/me-too-separating-artist-art-johnny-depp-woody-allen-michael-jackson-louis-ck
Arguing that kids SHOULD read things that scare them: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-features/features/2019/february/fear-with-a-safety-net-why-children-should-read-scary-books/
Some things actually just straight up go over kids heads. https://www.bustle.com/articles/177023-why-matilda-was-more-messed-up-than-your-childhood-self-realized
But not everything, which is why parent’s discretion is always suggested. 

Kelsey:

Hi, I'm Kelsey.

Hannah:

I'm Hannah.

Kelsey:

And this is our podcast, These Books Made Me. Today, we're going to be talking about Matilda. Friendly warning as always, this podcast contains spoilers. If you don't yet know how the parrot got in the chimney, continue at your own risk. We have a special guest this week.

Sarah:

Hi, my name is Sarah Garifo. I'm a librarian at the Spauldings branch and I'm a proud haver of a Matilda tattoo.

Kelsey:

We are so excited to have Sarah with us today. All right, so we're going to get it started by talking about what did this book mean to you? Was this everyone's first time reading and if not, how did the reread compared to your memories of reading it when you were younger?

Sarah:

So this was definitely, I would say one of my favorite books as a kid, one that I wore out along with a couple other Roald Dahl books. I wore out The Witches. I wore out James and the Giant Peach, but Matilda and I think a lot of other bibliophiles and librarians, book lovers really connected to Matilda, especially those early chapters where we see her as a young girl, learning to read, loving, to read, going to the library, reading every single book she can get her hands on. So yeah, one that I read a lot as a kid and probably hadn't read in 20 years before I picked it up recently to kind of reread and, and it's interesting to see it through adult eyes.

Hannah:

I had a very similar experience with Matilda and Roald Dahl books, um , growing up, I don't have a Matilda tattoo, but , um, I definitely loved it. It was one of my favorite books from Roald Dahl and I read like everything he ever wrote. I was, I think it was probably more obsessed with The Witches than Matilda, but, you know, I really loved everything that he did. I mean, I was, you know, like you said, we were all kind of struck by like the, you know, this, the portrayal of this young girl completely enchanted by, by reading and kind of the comical over the top whimsical macabreness of the book. I was surprised rereading this because I had the sense that the book, it had been probably 20 years since I read it too, I thought that the book was much longer as a kid. Like I was reading it. I'm like, oh, like, I didn't feel like that it wasn't anything lacking in the story, but it felt a lot more compressed than how it felt when I read it as a kid, it felt much longer, I felt much like a much longer , um, narrative to get through when I first read it. So I was surprised by how quickly it went this time.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I, I agree with you. I adored Matilda as a kid. I have my copy of the book here with me today. It has no cover and the spine is crumbling off. Um, so I did read it a lot, but I actually think I watched the movie even more than I read the book because I would make my parents take me to the library every week and check out the VHS and then I'd go back and return it and then check it back out again, as soon as they reshelved it. So I was really obsessed with Matilda. I think I just really resonated with her as a kid who just loved to read so much, seeing someone just love learning and love reading and, and have that be cool and be like a power really spoke to me in rereading. And I didn't rewatch the movie, but I did kind of watch some key scenes. I, I feel like I have an unpopular opinion. The movie might be better than the book. And I am shocking myself by saying that because I've never said that before, but I, but I agree with you, Hannah. I think I , I thought the book was a lot longer than it was. And I mean, my, my copy of the book is kind of thick, but the words are just really big, I think. And there's a lot of pictures. So I think that movie has a little bit more to it. Like there's a little bit more going on, but yeah, either way. I love both and I'm really excited to talk about them today.

Hannah:

So I have to confess, I have not seen the movie, which clearly I need to remedy, so I'm excited to do that after this, if you're saying that it's maybe better than the book that makes me want to want to watch it even more,

Kelsey:

I think it might be.

Sarah:

Yeah. I think as far as book to movie adaptations go, this one is almost perfect in that I didn't feel like there was anything missing when I watched it. And as Kelsey and I were talking about, it's a verbatim , uh, adaptation in a lot of places down to the name of the hair tonic that her mom uses. It's, it's all very exact. And so sometimes that's really delightful to see when you get to watch a movie and see it exactly as, as you pictured it in your head. And of course, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman are perfect for her parents.

Kelsey:

Absolutely. All right. Well, Sarah, do you want to take us into a little plot summary of the book?

Sarah:

I can do that. So Matilda Wormwood is an extraordinary young girl, but her parents are to use their own words, a couple of twits. Her father is the very stereotype of a smarmy used car salesman. And her mother spends her days playing bingo and touching up her roots. The Wormwoods are far too self-absorbed to realize just how brilliant their daughter is. By age three, Matilda has taught herself to read and by age four, she's ready to devour every book available to her, which isn't much, at least in the Wormwood house that is until Matilda starts walking herself to the public library with the help of Mrs. Phelps, the librarian, Matilda quickly worked her way through most of the British canon all before the age of six. Oh, and she just so happens to be a genius at arithmetic too . Frustrated by her parents' general horribleness, Matilda find small ways to enact her revenge at home, but it's still not a place for a child to grow up. Unfortunately, she soon discovers that school is even worse. The Headmistress Miss Trunchbull is a beastly woman who despises children, delights in inventing cruel and unusual punishments and regularly locks them up in a torture device of her own design. Thankfully, Matilda has the most glorious angelic classroom teacher and Miss Honey, who is every bit as sweet as her name implies, the love between Matilda and Miss Honey eventually changes the course of both their lives, especially because it gives Matilda the power, the magical power to emerge victorious from her ultimate boss battle against the Trunchbull.

Hannah:

I thought I could give us a little bit of info on the author before we go on. Roald Dahl Was born in Wales in 1916 to Harold and Sophie Dahl who were Norwegian immigrants to the United Kingdom. He and his siblings grew up speaking Norwegian for their first language. And Roald was named for a Norwegian Explorer, Roald Amundsen who was alive at the time of his birth, but would disappear, never to be found on an ill fated flight in the Arctic in 1928, when the, the child Roald would have been about 12. In 1920 Road's sister Astri, and his father Harold both died, his sister from appendicitis and his father from pneumonia. However, the surviving members of the Dahl family continued to live in the United Kingdom, Wales in respect to Harald's wishes that his children be educated in British schools. The child Roald seems to have been a bit of a prankster and many sources about his life, mentioned an incident involving a dead mouse in a candy store and smoking tobacco being swapped out for goat droppings. [Ugh heard in background] I know gross, right? Sophie sent Roald to boarding schools, first to St. Peter's and later to Repton in Derbyshire. I might be saying that wrong.

Kelsey:

Derbyshire. [Laughter}

Hannah:

Ye, like that! He declined to go onto university after he finished up at these boarding schools. And instead went to Newfoundland on sort of a hiking adventure. It seems like he took a job with Shell, the oil and gas company from 1934 to 1939. During his time with Shell, he lived in British-occupied, and I probably going to mangle this pronunciation, Tanganyika, a part of Africa that is now Tanzania in 1939 Roald joined the Royal Air Force and took part in aerial combat missions/battles during World War I I, until injuries sustained in a crash, rendered him unable to continue as a fighter pilot. He started writing while working in Washington, DC as an assistant air attache. The author CS Forester encouraged him in pursuing writing. He would go on to write multiple popular and influential , uh , children's books, including Charlie and the chocolate factory, James and the giant peach and Matilda, the topic of our episode today, his books were characterized by whimsy and a sense of the macabre. Roald Dahl married twice first to actress, Patricia Neal for a 30 year marriage that yielded five children. And secondly, to Felicity Crossland in 1983. He died in 1990 at age 74. It's important that we acknowledge and note that Roald Dahl was openly and extremely anti - Semitic. His family recently issued a statement acknowledging that although it was criticized for being short and insufficient as statements go. In addition, his famous book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory infamously contains the Oompa Loompas, which have rightfully been criticized as portrayals that are racist towards people of African descent.

Sarah:

A distinct memory as a kid of reading something somewhere saying that, and it might've just been, you know, very early internet, you know, first case of getting trolled by the internet. Uh, the story that his name was intended to be Ronald, but was misspelled on his birth certificate. And so it came out Roald, which is very clearly untrue. But if anybody listening to this has that same memory and you can figure out where I would have read that, let me know.

Kelsey:

I bet it was a tumblr post. [Laughter].

Hannah:

I can see that, that's interesting. I was, when I was researching, this actually fell down a rabbit hole of trying to figure out, like the correct pronunciation of Roald. Well, some sources have said that it was pronounced like Roo-all and some said Rolled. So I just, I didn't know what to do.

Kelsey:

All right. And now it's time for Ella's Ephemera. Each episode, our intrepid researcher will enchant us with scintillating factoids that related to our book. It's time to dive in and explore Ella's Ephemera

Ella:

Hi there everyone. I'm Ella. And this is my Ephemera, the part of the podcast where I tell you about some of the neat things I've learned while doing research. Did you like when adults asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? I wasn't a huge fan. Although I did enjoy hearing about what they thought I would be. When Matilda turned 30 back in 2018, that's exactly what the original illustrator, Quentin Blake, did. Blake was only asked by Matilda's current publisher, Puffin, to create one sketch showing what she would be up to as a 30 year old. Instead, he went ahead and created eight. Great , which appear on the covers of the 30th anniversary additions in an interview with the Guardian Quentin said, quote, I have had a lot of fun imagining what that little girl might be doing now that she's all grown up, since as a small child, Matilda was gifted in several different ways. It wasn't very difficult. Longtime fans probably won't be surprised to hear that things like Poet Laureate, world traveler, and the Chief Librarian of the British Library were on the list of things that Blake imagined Matilda growing up and being . But what about the Women's World All In Wrestling Champion or the Director of International Astrophysics Institution. Personally, I'm a big fan of the wrestling champion. Thanks for joining me on this deep dive, I'm Ella , and this is my Ephemera.

Hannah:

Okay, so we're going to get into our discussion of Matilda. How did it hold up? What did we think about this, reading it for some of us 20 years later?

Kelsey:

I've been having an ongoing joke on our pod for the longtime listeners, now that we have a couple of episodes out, that basically every book either is going to have something that's offensive to Native American indigenous people or a bad Halloween costume. And this book had neither. And I would say in general, I didn't feel that there was too much that, u h, really didn't didn't hold up or wouldn't be, you know, appropriate today, which especially given what we know about Roald Dahl's, um , background, I, I was kind of like extra sensitive for it and I really, I didn't hear anything. I was thinking maybe there's some stuff that could be a little like fatphobic, perhaps like a little.

Sarah:

Yeah, yeah

Kelsey:

But it wasn't overt and it wasn't as upsetting as even some of the other content in that area that we've, that we've read another book. So generally I actually thought it held up pretty well.

Sarah:

Yeah. I was almost afraid again, to reread it and be like, oh no, I need to get this Matilda tattoo taken off. But yeah, like you said, I think it does to the point that it almost has, maybe this is high praise to give, like a timeless quality just in that it could fit in any time. It doesn't seem like oh boy, like I'm reading something real outdated in real retro here.

Hannah:

Yeah, I agree. I felt like we didn't encounter those things that you were mentioning, Kelsey, that we have kept encountering pretty consistently so far. You know, maybe it's because it's from the eyes of, you know, a five-year-old child and it's very much focused on school and reading and the story is itself, not too long. The only thing that kind of kind of pinged a little for me was some of the gender portrayals. Like we get, you know, Miss Honey is, you know, she's obviously a, you know, beloved character and I very much like her in text as does Matilda, our heroine, but she's kind of like this archetypical fragile version of femininity, which , um, you know, we could, we couldn't ever get a little and you could contrast her with Miss Trunchbull who is, you know, portrayed as kind of the opposite and you know, very negatively like her strength is like sort of part of her grotesque villainy. That's really the only thing that kinda came to my mind. Other than that, I think it holds up pretty well.

Sarah:

I think it's interesting that you pointed out Miss Honey's kind of fragility because you do see that in both the book and the movie that Matilda is ultimately the heroine. Like she saves the whole day. She saves everybody, including, you know, grown up, Miss Honey. She gets her all her money back. She gets her her house back, you know, and this is a six year old girl. So Poor Miss Honey does come across a little damsel in distress. Although it's an interesting kind of turn on that trope to have a little girl, be the one to save the damsel in distress.

Kelsey:

I feel like this gets into like the, where the movie is better, a little better too, because in the movie, Miss Honey's a little more in on it with her. Like they go into the, they break into the Trunchbull's house together and , and Miss Honey helps her. Like, it has some tricks up her sleeve to get them out just as much as Matilda does. And there's at the end when she kind of like scares Miss, Miss Trunchbull, like Miss Honey's kind of like sneakily giving her signals of like, Ooh, spin the globe.

Sarah:

Oh that's right, she did

Kelsey:

And like, they're like in, on it together in a way that they're, they're not in the books, but I think in general, I never really thought about that. Hannah, about like the kind of different representations of women, because you have the Trunchbull and it's like, ah, yes, butch is evil. You know, like that's the coding, right? Like delicate femininity is good, butch is evil, but if you're too shallow, like Matilda's mom, that's also bad. So you have to be like beautiful and delicate and feminine without acknowledging that you're beautiful and, and delicate and feminine or veering too far into like, not caring about your appearance. There's kind of a narrow window of like what a good woman quote, unquote looks like.

Hannah:

That's very true. We see that Miss Trunchbull and Matilda's mother have both strayed from that very narrow window of what they're allowed to be and be coded as good.

Sarah:

Yeah. Yeah. Cause there, you know, he shines a light on it that line that Rhea Perlman delivers perfectly. And I don't know if I can do a good impression, but the, you know, honey, you chose books. I chose looks. [Laughter]

Kelsey:

That was pretty good

Sarah:

Oh thank you! It's like so very obviously satire that I think even as a kid, I probably still picked up on the message of that satire of like, you know, like it was so very, obviously funny, especially cause she's not, uh , Mrs. Wormwood does not meant to be a super beautiful woman.

Kelsey:

We think generally it has held up the fact that the author is so clearly like not a good person. Like how do we deal with Matilda and how do we kind of, this is kind of a deep question to jump into from the top. But I mean, I feel like it kind of pervades our whole conversation is like knowing that he was so openly antisemitic and so openly, like disdainful, how do we think about that? And how much does that affect the way that we view Matilda now?

Hannah:

Right. That gets into the issue of , um, the next point, which is like you were saying, how do we separate the art from the artist? Like, you know

Kelsey:

Or do we?

Hannah:

Yeah. Can we even, I mean, you know, I know on a personal note, it's, it's distressing to go back as an adult and be like, oh wow, this author that wrote this books, that meant so much to me and still do, you know, these are views that he held and you know, whether or not he was open about them or covert about them, you know, they were, they were, there like, we can't, we can't ignore them. We have to reckon with them in some way.

Kelsey:

Mm hm

Sarah:

Cuz there's definitely two places or two ways that I struggled to reconcile that. One is just the financial aspect of buying books and support, you know, supporting an artist or an artist estate where, you know, where our money talks and how much does it matter if I spend, you know, $10 to buy, you know, this paperback copy, like how much does that suggest my support, you know, of the author?

Kelsey:

Right

Sarah:

So there's that. And then there's also this idea that when you read a work, it's a very collaborative effort between reader and author. You know, the author puts forth the text, the reader brings forth their own interpretation, their own background, their own just visualization. And so in a way I think some people might argue that I literally can't read a book and separate the author from it. And I mean, people might make the same argument about movies and certain movie directors and movie producers as well. But I think particularly that can be really intimate relationship that you, that you have in that very weird way with reader and author. And it's like, oh, how close do I want to get to that mindset?

Kelsey:

Yeah. I mean, it's so true. Like I, I've been thinking about this a lot with another certain author who writes about a magical child , um , who I won't refer to specifically because I don't want to give them any more money. Um , but that's what I think about too, is like, there is that question of like how, how am I directly or indirectly sustaining and supporting their beliefs that I don't agree with by buying their books, by going to their very successful theme park or whatever it is, you know? But then at the same time, like regardless of what the author was thinking, when they wrote it, like we've taken some really powerful messages and I've heard from this , uh , magical community... Okay. It's Harry Potter. So like a lot of Harry Potter fans have, have been saying, you know, like JK, the book is not yours anymore. Like we're, we're claiming this because we, we don't agree with your, what you've said. And in fact, we don't think that what you're saying aligns with what you wrote. So we're choosing to interpret it differently. But even if you're doing that, you have to know that you're interpreting it differently from the author. So I don't think you can ignore what she said or what Roald Dahl has said. And I think you have to be aware of it going in because it comes up in some books, perhaps more than others like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there is this inherent biases that whether he recognized or not, he was putting on that page. He did. So we have to know about it.

Sarah:

Yeah. Especially when the Oompa Loompas are also in the cultural. So very visually, like we can all picture an Oompa Loompa. And so it persists, you know, the image persists now here's, here's kind of a dark take on the question, perhaps, does it matter if the author is still alive or not? When it comes to author of Harry Potter, I'm very, I could very well be putting money directly into that author's pocket. If I were to buy new copies of Harry Potter or participate in Harry Potter world in any way, that's not going to happen with, with Roald Dahl's books, do you think it matters?

Hannah:

I think that's a really insightful question. I think it does matter in Roald Dahl's specific case. Like there's an, estate and I don't know exactly. I think it matters that money's not money purchasing his books is not going into, into his pocket anymore because he's deceased. But, you know, I do kind of, I wish his family could own a little bit more his shortcomings. Like, you know, I, that I must be hard to like acknowledge that this, you know, beloved member of your family who created this cultural legacy. He was a crappy person in a lot of ways. But I do think that they're not grappling with it enough. I do think it matters. I don't know how it matters here specifically. I think it's, you know, topic for future discussion, but I think it does make a difference.

Kelsey:

It absolutely matters to me. .It's a big part of my calculation of like how I endorse or recommend or purchase or whatever I do to support. There was a band that it was my favorite band. I have a tattoo of them and they were part of the Me Too movement. And I've completely divested from, I don't purchase any of their music. They don't tour anymore because of what happened. But like, why don't I say part of the Me Too movement? Like they got Me Too'ed , they were canceled.

Sarah:

I liked that you said to Me Too, as a verb.

Kelsey:

Yeah very shorthand, they were Me Too'ed and the, the accusations were credible and they were terrible. And I decided that I didn't want to financially support them. And it's the same calculation that I think of for authors too. It's like, not only do I not want to give them money because I feel like that's a way of endorsing them, but I also don't want it to be a signal to them that the behavior was okay. You've already made things and like, we appreciate them, but I don't need to hear more from you, you know, like you're good. I think ...

Sarah:

Please don't write another blog post.

Kelsey:

Right. I don't need another blog post. I don't need another book. Like, you're good. Just go be in your castle. I also wanted to throw in there that I read , uh , and we'll link this , uh , blog post in our show notes, but there was some really interesting thought pieces about this question more generally. And I, and Sarah and I were joking, you know, we're not going to solve this question today. This isn't an ongoing debate forever and ever, and ever. And I think everyone has valid reasons for, or not for canceling their participation in reading an author or listening to a musician or watching an actor or whatever. There was a really interesting piece to me. And it kind of talked more about some of the people who are more questionable, like their behavior was bad, but how bad, and is it worth canceling? And I just, I like this quote and I think it's something it'd be something that I think about for other kind of borderline in the future authors. He said, it seems to me that we should begin by treating the authors. We admire as we would treat people in our lives. That is on a case by case basis, weighing their good points against their bad, taking into account extenuating circumstances and aggravating factors. The life of the author is never truly irrelevant. But if we accept that, we must also accept the weirdness, discomfort and complexities that follow. I like that because I think the problem really is that we put these people on a pedestal, like they wrote a great book, so they must be a great person and we must love and admire everything they do. And every choice they make and they're not they're humans and they have faults and they're affected by the times that they live in and the people that they know and the life they've had. And we need to be more conscious of that, I think.

Sarah:

Yeah. And I think I, I liked that that quote really points out that, you know, there's nobody in your life that you feel is that perfect and that you would put that high up on a pedestal. I don't think.

Kelsey:

Right.

Sarah:

You know, I think, and this could quickly become a really long conversation about cancel culture and what is acceptable to, for an author to have said, like as a product of their time, heavy air quotes, where it's like, okay, maybe that's not how we would say it now, but you can offer a generous interpretation to how they might've said something in past versus you can look up the things that Roald Dahl said and like there's no equivocation. It's clear.

Kelsey:

It's pretty clear

Hannah:

Yeah talking about how things are said is maybe a good segue for our next discussion topic, which is British slang. Obviously some Britishisms in Matilda, as there are in most, if not all of his books, like, did we get those British slang terms as kids? Did it matter? I mean, I don't think it personally mattered to me. I felt like when I read them, I generally got it. Like, you know, it's like, all right. Context gave me a rough sense of how this is, but it just kinda made the books delightfully weird and different feeling.

Sarah:

Yeah. It's like, they're even, it's even more of this little , uh , artifact, but yeah, I must have as a kid just glossed over so much of it, or like you said, context, you figure it out. I probably had never heard that word twit before, but you can figure it out pretty quickly. She gets called it enough times.

Hannah:

Yeah. Like I think I probably learned the word twit from Roald Dahl, and I probably learned about, you know, like the British thing about like being sick for throwing up - that's probably where I learned that.

Kelsey:

Oh yeah, yeah. You know what I was thinking about when I was reading The Series of Unfortunate Events, one of the things that I loved most about it was that it would have these random, giant words. And Lemony Snicket knew, knew that you would not have encountered that word before. And the intention was to like provide enough context for you to get it. And I really love this idea. And I think we're going to talk about this again in a little bit, but I just really love this idea of just trusting a kid to figure it out or move on. Like I was thinking about Miss Trunchbull, like anytime she insults them, she uses the most creative, like giant words. It's Incredible. It's so good. And they're huge. And they're words like you don't use in everyday language. I don't even think they're Britishisms necessarily. They're just big fancy words. And I probably didn't know what half of those words meant, but like if I encountered them later, I knew that was probably not a nice word, you know, like, or not a kind word.

Sarah:

you get the sense it was rather unpleasant.

Kelsey:

Yeah. So, and I just, I just love that idea of like trusting that kids will figure it out, you know, and not like dumbing down for them.

Sarah:

You blithering idiot, you festering gumboil, you fleabitten fungus.

Kelsey:

Yes.

Hannah:

Yeah. They're like Shakespearean slash Monty Pythonesque I dunno. It's like a British tradition of insults that we need.

Sarah:

Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries.

Kelsey:

Exactly.

Hannah:

I mean, you start out the book by talking through the omniscient narrator that, you know, he's talking about. Some children are blisters, no matter how much their parents love them. He's referring to children as blisters and scabs.

Sarah:

Carbuncles.

Hannah:

This is very evocative and kind of gross.

Sarah:

Yeah. Yeah. I do think it kind of speaks to his overall style, which I think must've really resonated with so many kids that, you know, we can easily name half a dozen of his books that we read over and over again. And that, you know, School Library Journal, and ALA regularly call, you know, some of the best children's books of all time. This is not talking down to children at all. U m, it's a very interesting style of, he is talking to a child as an adult. He's not toning it down or, u m, literally looking down on them, but it's sort of as like somebody whose like crazy uncle or like eccentric, eccentric uncle might talk to them, u m, just in his own big words and funny, funny phrases. And like you said, it kind of suggests this, like, I trust that you're going to pick it up as you go along. Yeah. And I'm not going to condescendingly, uh , define every other word for you. You'll you'll figure it out.

Kelsey:

I mean, it kind of connects to the other thing that our intrepid researcher Ella came across when she was kind of doing some background research for us is like this idea, this, this book is scary, right? Like it's, it's stressful. Like the stuff that happens is sad.

Sarah:

It's dark.

Kelsey:

Kids are abused and neglected and bullied, and literally thrown over a fence.

Sarah:

By their ears to the point where their ears stretch out.

Kelsey:

Yeah, like it's, it's scary. And some of it is that when you're a kid, like the things that you can't process, so you just ignore. And like, as adults you're like, whoa, like that's not okay. But as a kid, you're like, oh wow. She threw the girl over the fence at, by her pigtails. That's ridiculous. You know, like the gravity of it doesn't process. But then part of it is also like giving kids a space to like acknowledge like, yeah, some things in the world are scary. Some people are mean sometimes bad things happen and Matilda's going to triumph in the end and the good guys win. So it's not like you're left with this unresolved evil. So there's like a soft place to land, but it is scary.

Sarah:

It's not like a Grimm fairy tale where everybody gets eaten in the end.

Kelsey:

Yes

Hannah:

Is it Neil Gaiman? Who said that famous quote about, you have to give children books with monsters in them so that they can learn that you can defeat the monsters.

Sarah:

Yeah

Hannah:

I'm like, is that him? Okay? Which I think that applies here. Like, I mean, we could go on a long discussion about like dark, sad topics and children's literature. But I do think that, you know, children are often able to handle those topics if they're presented in the right way, especially like in this one where, you know, there's kind of a, a happy ending and, you know, Matilda defeats the monstrous Miss Trunchbull with cunning and intelligence. I mean, I also wonder if the fact that the whole, the whole book feels a little bit cartoony. Like, you know, it's , it's kind of ridiculous.

Sarah:

It's like a little campy is what I was thinking.

Hannah:

Yeah. I guess it is theoretically possible to swing someone around by their pigtails, but it's kind of a comical cartoony image. It doesn't really seem like it, it would happen. Us as adults. We look at this book and we're like, oh my god, horrific child abuse. I was much more horrified by the things that the adults were doing or not doing as an adult than reading this as a kid. I was like, oh, okay, well, it's a lot more upsetting to read these portrayals of child abuse than it was when we first read it as kids,

Sarah:

As, as a kid, I took what I needed from it and left the rest. And so I kind of took it as like an allegory. I wouldn't have said it at the time. I was not that obnoxious as an eight year old. I take this as an allegory for, but the sense of powerlessness you can have as a kid sometimes. And sometimes you can feel very powerless , um, about the smallest things, you know, just not having control over like your, your movement or what you do that day or what you eat, because it's all kind of decided for you. Um, the big one, I think that almost every kid can relate to is like you get in trouble for something at school that you didn't do. And it's so frustrating to, you know, there's that little bit of almost like wish fulfillment of like, what if I had some of those magical powers that I could fight back a little bit. I thought that the magic was a lot more in the book than it actually was. Um , it's you don't really see it until the end.

Kelsey:

There's LIKE two things.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

That was my biggest complaint. It was like, where is all the scenes where like, she pours the breakfast cereal and like, she like levitates children, like it happens. Yeah. I mean, to this point about like childhood agency versus lack thereof, even though the child abuse was more upsetting to me this time around, I think I was also much more like proud of Matilda for being like, oh, your going to mess with me. I'mma mess with you right back. Like, yeah . It was in the book. There's like, no time at all, between like her dad does something bad to her and her being like, okay, like we're going to get even. Yeah. That's not okay. Like, I know that you're not supposed to be treating me this way. And I also know that I'm smarter than you. And I can figure out a way to like, get my own revenge. And even though I still don't have control over my life enough to like, you know, have a new situation, I can at least do what I can to like, get some power back from you and embarrass you. Or like, just have some like private thing that I have going on to make you look bad so that I get some power back.

Sarah:

Yeah cause she was clever enough to hit him where it hurts. She went right for his vanity, with the blonde hair and the, you know, looking ridiculous with a hat glued to his head like that, that I think even more now, like I appreciate more reading as an adult. I was like, man, she narrowed in, like, kids can pick out your insecurities. Like they'll really used them against you. And she did that.

Hannah:

She's very cool. And you know, rational and calculating about it. She's like, all right, well, they'll behave slightly better for a couple of weeks of I do this. So I have to like knock them down a peg, like she's very incredibly analytical and chill about it. Like, I mean, it's almost a little bit at odds with her, like sort of kind, you know, modest different from the Matilda that like Miss Honey is like admiring. She was like, oh, this child is so smart, but not stuck up at all.

Kelsey:

I don't think she is kind though. I think, well, I mean, it's not that she's not kind, but I don't think kind is how I would describe her. I would, I would describe her as like moral, which like, to me there's a difference, like kindness. Like I'm just going to be nice to everyone, no matter what they do, for Matilda, it's like a very clear sense of like what's fair and unfair and what's right. And what's wrong. And like, if she senses an imbalance in the world, like she's going to do what she can to correct it and like support the underdog in the situation.

Sarah:

Does that make her like lawful neutral? I'm like trying to think of where we would put her alignment.

Kelsey:

She's like chaotic good.

Hannah:

Yes, with like a little sprinkle of justice.

Sarah:

Yes. So it's like. It's like, I will do whatever that's true. I think chaotic good might be a good way of looking at it. It's like, I'm going to do whatever it takes to write this.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Sarah:

And make it be good.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Sarah:

And including super gluing my dad's hat to his head.

Hannah:

I mean, and then going back a little bit to that idea of childhood agency, I mean, you see her, u m, I think you were saying, Sarah, it's like a bit of wish fulfillment, which is probably relate to the fact that, you know, this book is , this, this sense of Matilda and all the children being very small, like her and her friend Lavender, like even the older kids tower over them, you know, Miss Trunchbull towers over everyone. And there's this sense of just extreme, like physical powerlessness. So, you know, the carving out of that childhood agency, like, I mean, even Lavender, it gets that whole, like, sh e l ike, well, I'm going to get this newt. I'm gonna put it in the, in the water pitcher.

Kelsey:

I think Lavender kind of stinks in the book. In the movie. I feel like Lavender is like such a good friend and she's like kind of down. And she has the more screen time to like be a developed person. And in the book she's just like kind of casually mentioned. And then she does the new thing and it doesn't really do anything except get Matilda in trouble. And Lavender says that thing where she's like, well, she felt really bad about it, but she wasn't going to admit that she did it. [Laughter]. She doesn't like defend her friend and like, take , get her just deserts for like getting caught. So she like pulled a prank, got it blamed on her friend. And then that's kind of the last we hear of her. Whereas in the movie, I feel like you get at least more time with Lavender to like, be her own person and be there for Matilda . Even though everyone maybe thinks she's a little weird or like, you know, like they're underdogs together.

Sarah:

I do think that the movie gave us a lot of iconic characters and depictions and a lot of iconic scenes. We can talk about that. But yeah, there's something about Lavender that I think in the movie sticks with people, you know, she's got that her little. She's got that like froggy voice when she was like...wow.

Kelsey:

And the Newt thing I feel like is, is more like built out too. Cause she finds the Newt earlier. And like you get to see the whole scene with her. Like just like loving the Newt. I dunno.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

Yeah. The other thing though, is that like, they're like younger than I remembered. Like, like Matilda's barely five no, she's five and a half. When she finally goes to school,

Sarah:

Yeah, it was either like five and a half or even a six and a half somewhere in there, it was like, yo, mom, I should be in school by now.

Kelsey:

That's young. That's really young.

Sarah:

They're babies.

Kelsey:

Not only for like what she is capable of doing, which like, I know that's kind of the point, but also like it's just really young for a chapter book. Usually when you read a kid's book, they're the age roughly that the kid is reading it. I was feeling kind of surprised about the fact that like so many kids would be into a book about a kid that's so much younger than them, but I think it's because she doesn't really read as a five - year - old.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

But then it's weird that she is five. Like, yeah. I don't know. It's just like kind of strange. And then in the movie she doesn't really look five, she looks like eight, seven or eight maybe which I feel like is a more appropriate age.

Sarah:

Yeah. I do feel like it sort of goes against that basic knowledge that we try to use when we recommend books to kids is we're looking for protagonists that are about the same age as the reader. But like you said, because she's so precocious, maybe it's like, it's not like, oh, I'm reading a book about a baby.

Hannah:

Yeah. The way in which she speaks. I mean, I would get the introduction with her incredibly advanced reading lists that the local librarian is like, well, I guess you have to read Great Expectations now. I think you're right. She does not read as five.

Kelsey:

I do want to say, I love the librarian. I don't know why I had a memory of the librarian, like shushing her and telling her not to be there. I must be confusing it with another book.

Sarah:

With many other librarian depictions

Kelsey:

That's like one of my biggest pet peeves as a librarian. I'm like that librarian sucks. Madam Pince in Harry Potter sucks. Like that is not how a librarian - a good librarian works. A good librarian would be like, oh my god, this kid loves to read.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

But she's four and a half. And at the library by herself, I might call Child Protective Services, but I'm also going to get out of the books that she wants. And I feel like, at least that's what the librarian did. Is she didn't, she didn't ever talk down to Matilda and say like, are you sure that you're ready to read this? She listened and heard what Matilda was saying and what she was interested in and then reacted accordingly and let Matilda decide if the book was right for her or not.

Sarah:

Yeah . She's a good librarian. And in the movie she's played by Ron and Clint Howard's mom who also shows up in a couple other movies because I was like, I recognize her from somewhere she's in Apollo 13. She just is perfect for the little old lady librarian type.

Hannah:

Yeah. It was kind of nice to see that, you know, the librarian didn't suck in this. I think the last librarian I read about in a book was when we re-read , um , A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I was like, oh no, that librarian is terrible.

Kelsey:

That's librarian's terrible.

Hannah:

She was like the anti, whatever. The name of the librarian in a tree grows in in Brooklyn was. There was a part of me that was like you said, Kelsey. I was like, yeah. Why is she not trying to find the parents? this is not quite a five-year-old is wandering around by herself.

Kelsey:

I like how even he throws in a line there about how, like, she just learned to mind her own business and not care what anyone else was doing,

Hannah:

but it was nice to see, I see, like someone being kind to Matilda and someone like encouraging her interests and giving her books.

Sarah:

And for, you know, anybody who would have loved this book as a kid who would have been probably a book lover and a book reader, the scene of her dad ripping the pages out of the book is so like peak villain. Um , even now it's like.

Kelsey:

Oh evil.

Sarah:

Yeah. And even I felt like her, I was like, but it's a library book.

Hannah:

Yeah. I was thinking, oh, are they, is there going to be a scene? Because I didn't remember from my first read where she goes back to the library and was like, I'm so sorry. My parents destroyed this book. And the librarian was going to either like, make her pay for it or say, don't worry about it. But they never, she never went back to the library. So I feel like I would've liked to have closure on that, but you know, we didn't get it.

Sarah:

We'll have to write our, like our spec fic about it afterwards.

Hannah:

Did they keep that scene in the book? I'm sorry. In the movie. Since I'm the only one who didn't see the movie.

Sarah:

Where he rips up the book? Yep.

Hannah:

Okay. Yeah. That's good. Anything else that stands out as to what was different in the movie?

Kelsey:

Oh, I have a list.

Hannah:

Oh, Go for it.

Kelsey:

I wrote a list. Okay. Here are the things I think that are better in the movie than the book at the end when Miss Trunchbull believes it's not because she saw the message on the board and was scared, but because after the message was on the board, when she got back up, Matilda starts a food fight and the whole school like throws food at her. It's like a collective action. Bruce Bogtrotter even gets to like smear some chocolate cake in her face, which I don't know where he comes from and had it ready to go.

Hannah:

But that seems fair. He should get to do that.

Kelsey:

Yeah, he got his revenge. Um , Matilda's powers are, you get to see more of them, which you already mentioned. Like she has like a - all whole scenes that are fun. Like the bitty pretty one scene is just so good. Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman are just amazing. And they make everything better. The I'm big, y our little scene, which is like, I feel like the most iconic scene in the whole movie is not anywhere in the books where he says I'm big, you're little, I'm smart. You're dumb. I'm right. You're wrong.

Sarah:

Oh, it's not.

Kelsey:

No. And that's like the most iconic scene. And then Trunchbull brings it back later. So like really reinforces this idea of like kids' agency, not in the books anywhere.

Sarah:

Cause that, that line is so literally like the theme of the book.

Kelsey:

Oh my god. Yeah. They actually signed legal paperwork to get, uh, Matilda adopted by Miss Honey. And they don't just say like bye we're going to Spain. Have fun with this adult.

Hannah:

Oh good. Because that whole like scene in the book, I'm like, wait, they're going to come back and get custody later.

Kelsey:

Yeah, not good. That song that's like, On the way, One the way, that's i n that movie.

Hannah:

Yep.

Kelsey:

I mean also perfect. Yeah. People always say the associated with Ice Age, but like I intrinsically associated with Matilda and then Miss. Honey has made principal at the end of the movie. I don't think she's made principal at the end of the book.

Sarah:

Yeah. There was a whole thing about it. Uh , some man teacher becomes principal.

Kelsey:

Oh yeah, it was like Mr. Trevose or something.

Sarah:

I was like, we don't even know who you are. You don't get the be principal . Stupid.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And then the last thing I wanted, I was thinking about this earlier, too in the movie, her powers come from her being really angry at her parents. And like the inspiration is like, she's angry. And then when she moves in with Miss Honey, that's when she loses them. I don't know if they actually show her losing them, but like, she doesn't need them anymore because she's not angry. Yeah. In the book, Ms. Honey says that her power comes from having an unchallenged mind. And she's like, basically, because you're like really smart kid put into kindergarten class where you know, what's going on, you're not being like pushed and no, one's really acknowledging how smart you are. Like your brain is like just sending like electrical signals out of your body and like has nowhere for it to go. And so it gets channeled into this power. And I like that better. This is the one thing in the book that I liked better than the movie. I think it's a more powerful message of like, like it's good to challenge yourself. And like, I really liked that. I thought that was much more creative than like you're the Hulk. [Laughter]

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

And anger fuels you. I just think that's so interesting. It's like, you're smart and you like want to be challenged and you want to learn. And your curiosity in your life, your just inherent willingness to like learn and grow is what's giving you power to like have agency over your situation. Not like you being furious at your parents.

Sarah:

Yeah. I, I do like that. And I feel like I, I would be willing to give that also like a very modern reading as an adult and as a parent, as a parent of a child with ADHD, that to me, like, I would love to read that to him as like a, like an, again, an allegory for his ADHD. Like, cause it's not a, it's not a deficit of anything. He's just has so many ideas and so much excitement and energy and knowledge. And it's like literally bursting out of him.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Sarah:

And so other people might see that as chaos. And it's like, well, no, that, that's your magic power.

Kelsey:

A hundred percent. I love that.

Hannah:

I like the idea of curiosity and learning as magic, you know, both metaphor and in this book, literally magic as opposed to like, this is the dark side of the Force, you know, anger leads to. [Laughter[.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Sarah:

Let it, let it run through you. [Laughter].

Hannah:

Yes

Kelsey:

One other thing that I think is better in the book than in the movie is like in the book, the Bruce Bogtrotter scene is not as upsetting.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

In the movie, it's like really hard to watch in the book. It's like, it's, you're stressed for him, but like ultimately he's victorious and it's like, Trunchbull got defeated and he's like, I did that. And it wasn't that hard. Like I started sweating a little at the end, but like I was good and I got a whole chocolate cake. In the book. It's like, you're just like, oh, like, this is really traumatic.

Hannah:

Yeah. I mean, when I read Matilda and look back at these child abuse in school settings, things, I can't help, but remember not to like take it too much back to Roald Dahl's life. But I mean, he went to boarding schools. And it's been a while since I read it, but he wrote a couple of autobiographies. And he tells some horrible stories of his life, growing up in those and like beatings and , um, just awful conditions that they endured. So, I mean, he was a man in, I think his early seventies writing this, if my math is right. So, you know, he's written this as an adult, but I can't help but think that his experiences growing up can't have not, you know, fed his children's stories. And maybe specifically this one, a little bit.

Sarah:

So much bad stuff happens in kids, books in boarding schools specifically.

Hannah:

It's kind of a trope.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

Yeah. Super is.

Sarah:

Yeah, Remember when you would read things and think that it was going to come up in your life a lot more often as an adult, like quicksand? [Laughter].

Kelsey:

Yeah I don't know anyone who went to boarding school.

Sarah:

Yeah. I remember thinking like man, but, and it felt so foreign. And so when I hear about people going to boarding school, like that, it's a real thing that happened. I want to be like, so was it like Hogwarts or was it like, like in A Little Princess for your academy?

Hannah:

You're like, tell us, tell us more.

Sarah:

Were forced to live in the attic when you're were destitute. Like tell me more.

Hannah:

I guess, you know, that kind of almost leads us to the next question is, you know, why did Matilda resonate with us so much, even though we didn't have similar upbringings.

Kelsey:

I think you talked about it a little bit, Sarah, just with this idea that like, even in the best situation you have, you have very little power over your life as a child. Yeah. For me, I think I just loved the whimsy of it. Like the fun, like it's just, it's funny. It's a funny book. And especially movie I've always liked things that are like quirky veering on weird. Like just bring themselves in from being too weird that it's upsetting.

Sarah:

Yeah.

Kelsey:

And I feel like the movie does a good job of that.

Sarah:

Yeah. Because on the spectrum of Roald Dahl books, this is probably about as like realistic as it gets.

Kelsey:

Yeah. And then James and the Giant Peach may be like the most out there. I don't know if I could think of one that's more unrealistic, but I love that one too. So who knows? Yeah.

Hannah:

The, the BFG was also delightful, I think at the mag- the whole way idea of reading as magic resonated with me, like, I think you get this really like wonderful picture of just how nice it is for Matilda to escape into the books she's reading in the library or at home, like you, I think, you know, for bookish kids, I think that probably resonated with most of us. I also really enjoyed the magic aspect of it. I'm kind of, I've kind of been a sucker for fantastical elements in my stories from the time that I started reading. So, you know, it was pretty cool that she could lift things with her mind. I was into that. It's kind of sad she lost it at the end.

Kelsey:

I'm pretty sure. I remember like bugging my eyes out and just staring at things, seeing if I could make a move. [Laughter].

Hannah:

Right. Just imagine the little - she talked about like how her brain felt hot and she imagined the little arms.

Kelsey:

Trying to imagine, oh! I can do that!

Sarah:

U m, but yeah, because up until that point, like let's say I was reading this in like third, fourth grade, something like that. Did I have any like bookish heroes in books before that. She might've been my first introduction to like a bookish hero, which was like, again, instant connection with her right there.

Kelsey:

Yeah. You know what I was thinking about while I was reading this? So we've read this, we've read also A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Brooklyn, which I think is also like a book about books. Right. And like a book about loving reading. And I think there's a lot of those out there, like many, many kids books that we read feature, a main character who loves to read. And that's not really true of like movies. Like you don't have a lot of movies about a guy who loves movies. It's like a very specifically book phenomenon. And I can't quite place why that is like why it's such a thing to be a book character who loves books.

Sarah:

Yeah. That's so interesting. I hadn't put my finger on that before, but I agree.

Kelsey:

I don't know . Maybe like books just inspire so much. It's just a very specific kind of person. Like, I'm definitely someone who's like, what are my hobbies, reading? Like that's not a hobby, [Laughter] you know

Hannah:

It's totally a hobby though [Laughter]

Kelsey:

It's not a hobby [Laughter]...So maybe book lovers are just a little obnoxious. And so we need that in our books as well.

Hannah:

That could be the case.

Sarah:

We just want to remind each other and ourselves just how much we love reading.

Hannah:

Maybe the final thing we can ponder here is, and we go back to this and pretty much every book we discussed , but did we look at the protagonist in this case, Matilda as a role model, you know , I'll start off just by saying that I think she's a pretty decent role model. Like there's been characters like Harriet, the Spy who have been a lot more complicated and behavioral wise. And I feel like Matilda is, you know, I think we can all identify with like, okay . Being anxious to learn. But she also is, even if she's not kind, like you said, Kelsey , she's moral. I agree with that. I think that's a good distinction. I'm glad you I'm glad you said that. I mean, I think, I think I would be, if I had a child, I wouldn't feel too bad about her looking up to Matilda as a role model.

Sarah:

Yeah. Because I feel like she was justified in doing a lot worse than what she did in a lot of cases.

Hannah:

For sure.

Sarah:

So she took everything she had in her little six year old life and made it work. But also that she was able to like comprehend this whole, again, really dark story about , um , Miss Honey's dad, like being framed for suicide. I don't know how she would put that and like that she gets revenge for all of that, like that part I definitely wouldn't have picked up on cause I'm just like, I don't think I knew what that meant as a kid, but kid was astute.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I mean, I think if I was a parent and had a kid who looked up to her - Matilda as a role model, like I'd check on my clothes really quickly before I put them on. [Laughter] And I'd be like, worried if I had to like, you know, ground them for misbehaving or something. Cause I'd be like waiting for my just deserts in general. I agree. I think the fact that she is really guided by a very clear sense of right and wrong. The fact that she loves learning, like that's something that I would hope my child would aspire to as well, because t hat's something that I value and like, and she is a good friend. Like she does care about the people that she kind of like I was talking about when we were talking about how to assess authors, like she has a very clear sense of like who people truly are and their nature, and is very incisive about that. And the people that she judges to be good. And do, you know, deserving of that affection, she's she, you know, she is a good friend to them. She takes care of them.

Hannah:

You see her showing concern about Miss Honey, living in her cottage without heat, or really any food.

Kelsey:

Eating like a bean a day...Yeah

Hannah:

Yes. I'm thinking the Miss Honey is like, oh yes, I eat at school lunch. And that, you know, tides me over and I'm thinking, this is awful.

Kelsey:

Oh my god.

Hannah:

You know, Matilda's like noticing that she pretty much has, has bread and margarine, which, you know, she's giving to Matilda. She's not eating herself.

Sarah:

I love how, even in her, her own mind, she's so gracious about it. Cause first she was like, oh margarine, she really is poor. And then she's saying, and like, she doesn't even say it out loud, but in her head she's like, oh, this isn't so bad. Like I didn't notice.

Kelsey:

Yeah.

Sarah:

I was like, oh, sweet baby angel.

Hannah:

Maybe one final thing. I just thought of , um, Matilda has a really good sense of her own self-worth, which, you know, I think you'd like, you'd like to see a child grow up, having a sense of that for themselves too.

Kelsey:

Yeah. She also, and this is totally a tangent, but like the ribbon thing? Is that, is the a ribbon thing in the book or is it just in the movie where she always has a ribbon in her hair? It must just be in the movie.

Sarah:

Oh that's right because it's a whole thing in the movie. Cause like Trunchbull can smell her and she likes, smells the ribbon. Yeah.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I don't know why the ribbon thing was such a thing where like girls always wear ribbons in their hair and in books, but like, yeah , maybe it's just that in a Series of Unfortunate Events, but like many of the female role models I looked up to were ribbons. And so thinking as myself as a child, looking at her as a role model, I got really into ribbons.

Hannah:

Was that that around the time you read the Samantha books too?

Kelsey:

Samantha has a ribbon also.

Sarah:

it's like a whole taffeta bow.

Hannah:

She does. She's got a really beautiful bow.

Kelsey:

Ribbons were a thing I guess. That was a great discussion. And coming up, we'll get an expert's take on an important aspect of this novel that is not often discussed, but first let's pay some bills..

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Kelsey:

All right. Now let's talk to someone who actually knows something about one of the main topics covered in this book.

Maggie:

Hi, my name is Maggie Peterson. I'm um, assistant clinical professor in the College of Education at the University of Maryland. Primarily I , um, work with pre-service teachers , um, in everything related to literacy, including children's lit, adolescent lit, and um , teaching writing across the curriculum.

Heather:

Okay. So, Maggie, we are talking about the book Matilda today, and I know you have some background with this book personally, so I thought we'd start there. If you could tell us a little bit about your history with the book.

Maggie:

So Matilda was a book I came to , um , later, actually in life. And it was because my son loved this book. He probably honestly saw the movie first and then read the book. He was big on doing that. And it was one where it was also a thing where all of a sudden I saw that the, what I would have called satire and like thinking of problems being put forth, my son saw as humor and he would just laugh maniacally while he was reading. He thought that the , um, meanness and the control, the sort of over the top violence , um, done, especially by Miss Trunchbull was, you know, funny in a way it was, it was again like larger than life. And I think , um , he saw that as being yeah, humorous. He just, he just loved it.

Heather:

So going back to this idea of it's a very different read for an adult, it is than it is as a child. U m, can you talk a little bit more about how you think Trunchbull is viewed by a child versus how she's viewed now as an adult?

Maggie:

Um, so what I love about Roald Dahl, he like William Steig, another favorite of mine does not pander to children. He does not create nice or pretty worlds. And I think his child audiences and I, as an adult lover of literature, I think , um, appreciate that. This world of truly despicable characters is, is not, it's not, well one, it's not meant to present you with a , um, uh , pat or pretty view of the world. But I also think it's meant to kind of create these characters that you can identify with. You can see Miss Trunchbull in the world in a much less exaggerated , um , version, but she acts as a real life villain that kids recognize as that I think. And also he is yes speaking to directly to kids talking about there are behaviors that , um, you will encounter. And , um , Ms. Trunchbull sort of like embodies all of the worst of them. I think every text is a teaching text. I think walking away, you're not supposed to want to be like Miss Trunchbull, you're supposed to see her behavior as a , um, as a thing to call out in the way Matilda does as a , um, heroine. And then also to not be like.

Heather:

As an educator, how do you feel about books that focus on school experiences or on teachers? Do you seek them out? Do you try to avoid them? Are there any pet peeves with that sort of genre of children's lit for you?

Maggie:

Um, I try to as much as possible make my students who are future teachers , um, really be critical of the, the way that teachers are portrayed because they're everywhere. They're everywhere. You know, what's his name, Dan Stein in a Ferris Bueller, Bueller, Bueller, anyone, there are, there are in media and in books and in all ways there is this vision often very, very surface level vision of what teaching is. So I try to with my students, especially when we come across everything from like, you know, Ms. Bindergarten, starting kindergarten, there's a book that teachers were in love with for a long time where it's the teacher's first day of school and she's under the bed. And , um , her husband's like trying to talk her into actually going to school, all of these kinds of portrayals, whatever they are, I try to teach my students and in children's literature and an adolescent literature to approach books, specifically as something that's been made and as something that's been made, we should be questioning who made this and why, what are the portrayals here true to life? Are they complex? Are they adding to our understanding? So I don't really avoid them. I mean, I think there are also hilarious, like again, Trunchbull, like a great example of sort of, you know, like Gothic , um, examples of teachers, you have it in the Harry Potter series with , um , Snape and even McGonagall is kind of like an iconic, u m, tough but fair teacher. I think we try to be critical about that for future teachers. I always say teaching is an iceberg, right? And it's what it's, so that's what can be seen above. Everyone thinks that they have a sense of what teaching is, what good teaching is, and that it's not taught. That's not something that you need to study or that you develop over time and, and, uh , research, et cetera. So they tend to focus on what is seen, um , by anybody who goes into a classroom, which if you've ever been a teacher, it's probably your pet peeve that you're like, everyone thinks they know my job and that they know what good teaching is. U m, so, u h, yeah, I wouldn't, I wouldn't steer clear, but I would definitely, I would want my students to be critical for sure.

Heather:

Were there any things about Matilda that we haven't touched on, that you wanted to talk about today.

Maggie:

Um, one is the , uh, kind of punishments that are used in Matilda. They have this Gothic element to them. That is a thing that I can remember as a reader being really fascinated by this idea of , um, British schools and then also that larger than life, you know, punishment. I think kids are a little fascinated by that element of it. And I think in some ways exaggerating it, like it takes the sting out of like real punishments, you know, the actual things that , um , happen in school, we'll have this great quote where it's like, books are a safe place to explore dangerous ideas. This is like a vicarious, oh, that's terrible. Um, when I was teaching high school, a parent came and spoke to another teacher and she said, all the books that you're teaching are depressing, they're very depressing. And they deal with really serious real life issues. And , um, they do because that one students are interested, in those really serious real life issues of suicide, drug abuse. I mean, adolescents coming of age stories, sexuality, all of those elements. So Roald Dahl to me, why Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and, u m, u h, of James and the Giant Peach are. So I think still beloved by children is that he talks about issues that kids are really interested in that parents might not think are the best thing for their kids to read. There's something happening here where the author is speaking directly to these kids and to the things that they care about. U m, and in some ways I think as parents, and even as teachers, maybe we just need to get out of the way, like, there's, we don't need to insert ourselves to be saying, you know, you shouldn't act like Miss Trunchbull, right. You knew there aren't real teachers like that. I think we don't give kids enough credit. We don't give readers enough credit for understanding something else is happening here. Let me see if I can get to the bottom of it. What is Roald Dahl doing? U m, is this real life? Cause it's not, it's not, and it's, I think a thing that, you know, I've been guilty of as a parent, trying to protect my own kids from, you know what I mean? And it put , I want to get out of the way. I want them to know Miss Trunchbull and Miss Honey. And I want them to question Matilda as a character and I want them to be interested in the things that happen . I want them to learn about, I don't know, Gothic novels in the process. I was in a classroom once and a teacher had put out a bunch of National Geographic magazines for the kids to use for a project and a mother who in the class. And my daughter was in second grade class, one of the best, second grade teachers I've ever seen, flipped through. And she found a picture of a child's funeral in Mexico, in National Geographic. She was incensed. And I thought you want your child to think kids don't die? And I often run into that with my teachers too , my future teachers. It's, uh , it's , it's hard to push back on because it's also a very parochial sense of what kind of world we're giving. And yet they will complain that they're in college and they never learned about, you know, uh , u h, the, uh , Indian boarding schools experiment. So they'll say, how come I never knew about that? You didn't know about that because we tried to cleanse what the real world

Heather:

Right, make it palatable for everyone else.

Maggie:

Yeah, exactly. For kids.

Heather:

But, like that being said. I bet that that mom, that objected to the coffin. I bet she read the Little House books when she was a kid. And so like a child goes blind from like scarlet fever.

Maggie:

Yes, yes

Heather:

And so that's one of the things as we've been doing this, that with each book, we've had a split between those of us who read it as children and those who are seeing the first time as an adult. And it's been very interesting. Um,

Maggie:

yeah,

Heather:

but like, yeah, if you're looking at something as an adult and it's your first encounter with it, you're more critical of it than you would be. If it's something you came to as a child yourself,

Maggie:

So true.

Heather:

And like lots of the classics, they have really heavy stuff in them.

Maggie:

I mean,

Heather:

They have deaths

Maggie:

Bridge to Terabithia.

Heather:

Oh yeah .

Maggie:

I read in fifth grade and I remember my mom being like, what's wrong because I was sobbing. But that book was, I mean, I loved that book. That book was my, you know, secret garden. That was a book that just like, I, I mean, I still have feelings about that book. You know, it made me realize , um, kids can die. Kids can suffer, like to mean we're giving them the world. We should be at least honest about what that means, the books that people like again still. And I have, I have this argument at least once a semester with people, the books that people think are great for kids, not all, but some of my students, especially are things like the rainbow fish, these like, you know, let's all share, you know, high - quality literature is literature, kids love, but also high quality literature is literature. In that it's asking more questions than it's answering. It's providing...

Heather:

That there's an interpretation.

Maggie:

Yes, exactly. That you have to do some of the thinking and some of the work. Right?

Heather:

You have to make a choice.

Maggie:

Yeah. And then the author in some ways trusts that you're going to do that.

Kelsey:

And now it's time for everyone's favorite game segment. We have a really fun game today. I'm a little nervous. Honestly, our game today is going to be describe a book badly.

Sarah:

Yes!

Kelsey:

So I went through the book. I picked out , um , three books that Matilda either , uh , has in her little list that she does of all the books that the librarian gives her or otherwise mentions throughout the book as something that she read and liked or disliked. Um, and so I have briefly described the book poorly and you guys are going to try to guess which book I'm describing.

Hannah:

All right. I'm excited.

Kelsey:

Are you ready to play?

Sarah:

I got my like buzzer.

Kelsey:

Okay. Yes, buzz in, wait , um , we need buzzing noises. Sarah, what's your buzz .

Sarah:

Ding Ding . Ding .

Kelsey:

Okay, Hannah?

Hannah:

Uh... [L aughter] I'm gonna knock on the table. [Laughter and rapping noise] How about that?

Kelsey:

Okay. All right. Are we ready?

Sarah:

Yes.

Kelsey:

Okay. Here's the first badly described book: A wealthy man attempts bigamy with an abused orphan, but he is followed by a poltergeist, whose revealed to be his quote unquote mad wife who he holds hostage. [Rapping sound]

Sarah:

Oh, you, aw she beat me [Laughter],

Kelsey:

Hannah!

Hannah:

Do I have to answer it in the form of a question?

Kelsey:

No [Laughter].

Hannah:

Is it Jane Eyre?

Kelsey:

It is indeed Jane Eyre Okay. Very good job. Hannah. Book number two: A spoiled brat who continuously hears and follows mysterious voices, but befriends, her kidnapped cousin who is recovering from Munchausen syndrome and both are fixed by plants.

Sarah:

Ding ding ding.

Kelsey:

Oh, Sarah. is it The Secret Garden? Yeah.

Hannah:

A great description.

Sarah:

Which I have somehow never read or seen.

Kelsey:

I've never read it either,

Sarah:

but I still, like, I guess I knew enough about it.

Kelsey:

I've never read it either. And I was reading the description on Wikipedia so I could write this summary. And I was like, what is going on? On in this book? [Laughter]

Hannah:

It's bananas. Plot-wise. Bananas.

Sarah:

This isn't even, this is just the Wikipedia entry right here.

Kelsey:

Yeah. I tried to read it a couple of times as a kid and I could never get into it. Probably. This is why. Um , all right. Last one. So at the time we have one-on-one, we'll see who wins. Four refugee children visit and are ultimately put in charge of a magical world of which they are not residents or citizens because hashtag imperialism, also the Bible [Rapping noise]. Hannah ?

Hannah:

Is it the Chronicles of Narnia?

Kelsey:

I t is indeed.

Sarah:

Oh!

Multiple voices:

[Laughter]

Sarah:

The Bible. That one really gave it away. Cause the first I'm like Swiss Family Robinson, but no, the Bible,

Hannah:

I was like is the Lev Grossman Magician series. I was like, oh no, the bible

Kelsey:

Yes.

Hannah:

CS Lewis.

Kelsey:

All right. Well, excellent job that we'll send that one to Hannah. If you'd like to read the other , uh , 20 books that , um , Matilda mentions , uh, there's a detailed list in the book and maybe we can link to a blog post that gives you them all in case you want to do the Matilda wormwood reading challenge. Lots of good titles we can put on there.

Hannah:

We'll have to add that.

Sarah:

All right . So each episode we ask, whether our book passes, the Bechdel test, the Bechdel test test asks whether a work features, female characters who talk to each other about something that doesn't involve men or boys. So does it pass?

Kelsey:

Yes.

Sarah:

Yes. Resoundingly.

Hannah:

Yeah. For sure.

Kelsey:

There's like no men or boys except for her bad dad.

Sarah:

Yup. And even her brother is kind of a dud, but yeah. It's like all women,

Hannah:

this one passes it extremely well. I feel like, have we had one that hasn't passed yet? I don't. On our rereads. I don't think so.

Kelsey:

You know, I don't think so. I don't think so. We've had some that's squeaked by, but uh, so far so good. I'm relieved. Well, that's it for this episode of These Books Made Me join us next time when we'll discuss a book in which a horse girl turns her teacup. If you think you know which book we're tackling next, drop us a tweet. We're @pgcmls on Twitter and #TheseBooksMadeMe, you can also send us an email to thesebooksmademe@pgcmls.info. Special thanks to our intrepid researcher, Ella .

Intro
What Did This Book Mean to Us
Coping With a Problematic Creator
Book Vs. Movie
Matilda Plot Summary
Roald Dahl's Bio
Ella's Ephemera
How Did It Hold Up?
Gender Portayals
What To Do With Problematic Creators
British Slang is Very British
On Not Talking Down to Children?
Don't Mess with Matilda
Lavender and Newts
Matilda's Librarian
Book Vs. Movie Redux
Boarding Schools
Why Did It Resonate With US
Matilda as Role Model
BrainFuse Commercial
Interview with Maggie
Describe a Book Badly Game
Bechtel Test