Matilda2Matilda, a children’s novel by Roald Dahl, originally published in 1988.

It has been many years since I read this book in its entirety. A dozen years in fact, for that is when we originally purchased the copy our 9-year-old just finished reading. Her thoughts will heavily influence this review and the book’s final grade is her assessment.

Matilda, aged 5 and half, is an extraordinarily intelligent and thoughtful girl being raised by rude, inconsiderate parents who view her contemplative and intelligent nature as an odd inconvenience. Matilda, being a typical child despite her extraordinary intelligence, occasionally pulls pranks on her boorish father in attempts avenge her cruel treatment. These pranks notwithstanding, Dahl makes it perfectly clear that Matilda is a character to be loved by children for her combination of wit, whimsy, and innocence.

When she goes to school, things are hardly much better for Matilda. Her teacher Miss Honey, is charmed and astonished by Matilda’s unusual abilities, and treats her kindly. However, the school’s headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, is just as dismissive of Matilda as her parents are, but even more cruel. At school, Matilda makes friends and joins in with the other children who also exact their revenge on the evil headmistress through series of childish pranks.

In the end, the headmistress faces justice for her wrongdoings and Miss Honey receives the long withheld inheritance that is rightly hers, all as a result of Matilda using her unusual abilities to hatch a plan that gets both women get what they deserve.

Our daughter logged her favorite and least favorite parts and characters in the book.

Mr. Wormwood, Matilda’s father is a used car salesman who teaches his son how to turn back the miles on the odometers of the cars he sells, make a car with a knocky engine sound smooth, and other tricks of the used car trade. When Matilda points out that that this is dishonest, he chastises her. She responds by playing a trick on him. Since this was a point of note to her in the book, it provided a lesson in respect for authority, even perceived flawed authority.

A second scene which made a humorous impression is when the school headmistress, who has a special distaste for younger students, grabbed one by the pigtails and threw her across the school yard.

This book, which was adapted to a successful feature film is considered a modern classic. It is well written, fun,  and whimsical. It’s a book which children love but which needs to be read with accompanying adult counsel. What seemed all in good fun when our older children read it gave me a bit more pause than it did the first time around.

Nevertheless, there are lots of good lessons on kindness and friendship, and appreciating others differences.

Perky Princess’ Grade: B

Content advisory (pasted from Common Sense Media since they do a good enough job):

This book, like most of Roald Dahl’s, should be labeled “know yourself.” Some adults hate it for the same reason that kids love it — it shows a good, smart child overcoming evil, dumb adults. It has ridiculous, cartoon violence, not meant to be taken seriously, where no one actually gets hurt. It has a black and white view of the world: the good are all good, and the wicked get their comeuppance at the hands of giddy, delighted children. If any of this bothers you, if you think children’s books should always have a respectful attitude to adults in general and parents in particular, keep it out of your house, because griping about it will make you look just as nasty and clueless as Matilda’s parents.

If, on the other hand, you can enjoy this type of humor, it’s a harmlessly guilty snicker you can share with your kids. It’s a silly romp, a good read-aloud, and a mild challenge for middle graders to read themselves. Either way, it will have them giggling and feeling immensely satisfied at the ending (which bothers some adults even more than the rest of the book). So make your choice and then live with it, because railing against this book is not going to do you any good at all.

4 thoughts on “Matilda

  1. Elspeth says:

    Spoiler alert!:

    The controversial ending that CSM refers to is when Matilda ends up living with Miss Honey. Her parents hastily yet heartily agree to the arrangement as they are attempting to leave town and outrun the law which is hot on their tails when the extent of Mr. Wormwood’s criminal activity comes to light.


  2. Elspeth says:

    Oh, we watched the movie this past Saturday as well. It was 9-year-old’s first time getting through a 200 page book so the film was her award for the accomplishment.

    It was very funny and she immediately made note of the way they cut through books to the most compelling and memorable sections to tell a story in under 2 hours that took her nearly 2 weeks to get through.


  3. Bike bubba says:

    If you haven’t already, take a look at Roald Dahl’s autobiography–neat guy that sadly we won’t see in Heaven, as he was pretty badly treated by a schoolmaster who later became a bishop–I’m thinking even the Archbishop of Canterbury. So all those poor, abused kids yearning for big things?

    Name them all Roald Dahl, in a manner of speaking. He’s also the one that took Ian Fleming’s (the James Bond writer) Chitti-chitti-bang-bang and turned it from what Fleming intended to….ironically…more of the modern James Bond movie, but for children. Sort of.

    Blessings, and thanks as well for the link to the Booker T. Washington site. I’d wanted to look at some of the things he wrote for a while and had never had (or made) the opportunity. Much appreciated.


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