Tuesday 4 December 2012

Review: Fantastic Mr Dahl by Michael Rosen

Just how did Roald Dahl get into writing? Where did he get his ideas from? What ingredients in his life turned him into the kind of writer he was? Michael Rosen - poet, broadcaster and former Children's Laureate, comes up with some of the answers to these key questions in his lively biography of the world's No.1 storyteller. Full of stories and funny anecdotes from Roald Dahl's school days and family life, Michael Rosen's fascinating observations creates a vivid picture of one of the most famous writers of all time.

I have discovered over the past year or so that biographies are rather popular reads for a number of our teens at school. Sportsmen and sports women, comedians, TV presenters - I have seen all of these in the hands of student or another. Personally I'm not a big reader of biographies as they hold little interest for me, but one of my closest friends loves them as, by his own admission, he is nosey. The students who I have seen reading these books have told me that they love finding out about the lives of celebrities. However, apart from a handful of fab totals from the wonderful Barrington Stoke, biographies are in very short supply for younger readers. Therefore, I couldn't resist replying in the positive when the lovely people at Puffin emailed me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing Fantastic Mr Dahl.

Fantastic Mr Dahl is a relatively short book about one of this country's most beloved authors (Roald Dahl) written by another one of our most beloved authors (Michael Rosen). Rosen states proudly that he is Roald Dahl's biggest fan, and he opens this book with a short anecdote about how he first met the great man. What follows is a delightful peek at the life of arguably one of this country's most famous and most loved writers, starting with his life as a boy, and continuing through his work during the war and then on to his work as a writer.

This is only a brief introduction to the life of Roald Dahl, but Rosen does not waste a single word. He has very cleverly dissected the work of Dahl and focused on key moments or aspects of his life that hint at how he came to be the writer whose work we know so well: Dahl's love of word play and making up new words; his Norwegian background; his love of chocolate. Can you spot where he may have used these in his stories? Michael Rosen also gives young readers a glimpse into how Roald Dahl came up with his ideas, and the ensuing writing process, and in doing so he points out some of the elements that made Dahl's stories so appealing and so timeless.

This is a great book to be read to/by any fan of Dahl's work, and especially to any child who shows even the slightest interest in writing their own stories. Reprints of some of the letters, complete with spelling and grammatical errors, that Dahl wrote as a boy and young man will show children that the man was far from a master of the English language, and could give them confidence to further explore their own ideas in writing.

My only criticism of this book? It finished too soon!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds brilliant - wonder why there are so few biographies available? Have you read Zlata's Diary? A girl's diary during the siege of Sarajevo. Might be worth a borrow from the library as an alternative to celebrities or for any budding historians? I know I read it years ago and still remember it, even though back then I didn't even know where Sarajevo was!