Danny the Champion of the World (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
silly father-son stories hit the spot

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Danny the Champion of the World

By Roald Dahl

Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Funny in both senses (haha and strange)

Roald Dahl’s books are morally fraught. They just are. They are a mixed bag of incredibly human impulses. If you try to sanitize his stories, you will erase the very heart of his characters. Danny and his dad are good guys, but (there’s no getting around it) they do some bad things. Funny things. But illegal and low-down, nonetheless.

If I’d known HOW morally mixed this story is, I may NOT have chosen it for our first summer read-aloud with my boys. But, it was a good opportunity for me to casually introduce them to the idea that sometimes the main characters in a book don’t always do the right thing.

What is so morally complicated here in this harmless children’s book?

Well, Danny and his dad are the two sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. They live a simple life in a camper next to the gas station that they own and operate. Danny is only 9 or so, still a kid. One day, his dad confesses that he’s a poacher. He wants to poach pheasants off of a rich neighbor’s land. The rich neighbor is a big, bad meanie, so who cares about him? Danny comes up with a brilliant idea for how they can poach over 100 pheasants in one night and ruin the rich man’s annual shooting party, embarrassing him in front of all his hoity-toity guests.

Um, that’s mean. And illegal. It’s robbing the rich to feed the poor, except nobody is starving, and Danny’s dad says outright that he loves poaching because of the thrill, not because he needs food. Danny and his dad are praised and never condemned for their actions or attitude. Their plot goes off with hilarious results…but the laughs are rather cheap.

Because Danny comes up with the grand idea for the poaching scheme, he’s dubbed the champion of the world. Sigh…this is wish fulfillment for kids. What kid wouldn’t want the grown-ups around him to lift him high and praise his brilliance? BUT…

…at the same time, I love how Danny is given independence. His dad doesn’t baby him. Danny isn’t a listless, depressed, anxious kid who feels like his life is meaningless. He is well on his way to maturity at the tender age of 9, knowing how to problem-solve, handle responsibility, and take calculated risks. There is a degree of merit here, especially for boys.

But, as a mom, I wanted there to be more of a reality check to balance this out.

Hey, it’s Roald Dahl, and you’ve got to know that going in.


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