Top 100 Children’s Novels (#18)
#18 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#4)(#4) (#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#8) (#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#10) – 154 points
My sister and I took this book on a camping trap when we were nine and ten. She started reading it first, and was laughing so hard that I ended up picking it up every time she unwisely put the book down to do unnecessary things such as eat. By the end of the camping trip the paperback cover had been ripped in half after an epic fight over whose turn it was to read. – Ann Carpenter, Youth Services Librarian, Brooks Free Library
I identified with Matilda, being two years younger and therefore much smaller than my classmates, and bored (though I had a MUCH better family!). Reading was my favorite escape and the library my favorite place to go. Now if only I could have developed telekinesis. – Abigail Goben
As a youth, I gobbled up Roald Dahl books like the eponymous heroine of this lively tome. I loved them all—even the comparably yawn-inducing “Boy.” Overall, though, I think Matilda has more heart than most of Dahl’s books and that’s why I voted it #1. – Katherine Harrison, Editorial Assistant, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
I’m not sure why this is my very favorite Dahl. I think because I always thought that if I was just a little bit smarter, I, too, would be able to move things with my excess brain power. Also I wanted to be Miss Honey when I grew up. But Miss Honey at the END of the book…. – A.M. Weir (Amy’s Library of ROCK)
I guess I credit Roald Dahl with giving my perpetually sunny, slightly goody-goody daughter a dark, wicked sense of humor. – Jody Sitts, Children’s Librarian, Field Library, Peekskill, NY
Watch out for the quiet ones.
It may surprise some to see Matilda standing higher on this list than poor modest Charlie Bucket. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that while most (not all) Dahl books starred boys of one stripe or another (George, James, Charlie, etc.) Matilda was the only gal to get her name front and center in the title. This is the closest Dahl ever got to a feminist vision, and little girls everywhere love them their Matilda. She was a kind of proto-Harry Potter complete with a nasty family and secret magical abilities. For a certain generation, Matilda was our Harry.
The plot description from the book reads, " ‘The Trunchbull’ is no match for Matilda! Who put superglue in Dad’s hat? Was it really a ghost that made Mom tear out of the house? Matilda is a genius with idiot parents – and she’s having a great time driving them crazy. But at school things are different. At school there’s Miss Trunchbull, two hundred menacing pounds of kid-hating headmistress. Get rid of the Trunchbull and Matilda would be a hero. But that would take a superhuman genius, wouldn’t it?"
This could be all heresay and conjecture, but at a recent ALA event I spoke with an editor who told me that Dahl’s original vision for Matilda was quite the opposite of the final product. By all accounts, Dahl wanted Matilda to be a nasty little girl, somewhat in the same vein of Belloc’s Matilda Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death. Revision after revision turned her instead into the sweet little thing we all know and love today. He retained her tendency towards revenge, however, and I think that’s another reason the book works as well as it does. In the end Matilda bore some similarities to James and the Giant Peach, though Dahl had the guts to go and make the actual parents in this book the bores, and not just mere aunties.
- In the book Revolting Recipes, there is a recipe for the chocolate cake The Trunchbull makes poor little Bogtrotter devour. That also happens to be my favorite scene, you know.
Publishers Weekly said of it, "Adults may cringe at Dahl’s excesses in describing the cruel Miss Trunchbull, as well as his reliance on overextended characterization at the expense of plot development. Children, however, with their keenly developed sense of justice, will relish the absolutes of stupidity, greed, evil and might versus intelligence, courage and goodness."
Said School Library Journal, "This may not be a teacher’s or principal’s first choice as a classroom read-aloud, but children will be waiting in line to read it."
This version of Matilda is by one Chrystal Chan. She’s a mere $250, should you wish to take her home with you. Found on Beyond the Page.
Considering how relatively recently it was published, there aren’t all that many covers. The usual plays on Quentin Blake, of course.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Ukraine has a thriving and superior illustrator community out there. Here’s their Matilda.
I would very much like to see the Matilda movie, actually. Casting-wise it’s rather inspired. I know that there have been objections to the degree to which Matilda uses her powers in the film, but I’d still like to give it a go. Can anyone vouch for / deplore it? Any movie with Rusted Root in the soundtrack can’t be all bad, after all.
Where are you today, Mara Wilson?
Other Top 100 Children’s Novels Posts
Filed under: Top 100 Children's Novels (2010)
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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