BOY

TALES OF CHILDHOOD

Throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten. . . . Some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly." Vividly indeed: with the intimate, confiding tone of a born storyteller, Dahl turns each of his family/school memories into a miniature adventure, thriller, or horror-story—with the earthy emphasis on pleasure (food, comradeship), fear, and pain. After a brief, charming slice of family-history, explaining how his Norwegian parents came to live and prosper in Wales, Dahl gets right down to business. From the years at Llandaff Cathedral School (ages 7-9, 1923-25), there's a candy-by-candy tribute to the local sweet-shop, site of "The Great Mouse Plot": Roald and friends, fed up with the meanness of filthy sweet-shop-owner Mrs. Pratchett, secretly put a dead mouse in the Gobstopper jar—but suffered mightily for their glorious prank. (Mrs. P. reported the crime to the Headmaster—unleashing the first of many school-career canings, all described in gruesome, technicolor detail.) Summer vacations in Norway are also recalled in a mixture of ecstasy—the fish, the scenery—and agony: an operation for adenoid removal without any anesthetic. And the extremes of pleasure and pain continue through Dahl's years at two English boarding schools: homesickness, sadistic Matrons and Masters, practical jokes, the indignities of "fagging" (warming up the toilet-seat for older boys), chocolates. . . and, always, the dreaded Headmaster's cane. ("By now I am sure you will be wondering why I lay so much emphasis upon school beatings in these pages. The answer is that. . . I couldn't get over it. I never have got over it.") Some readers may be put off by Dahl's style here—chatty, bedtime-story-ish, deceptively avuncular. Others might not take to the British references (no special explanations for a US audience), or the particularly British approach—full of bitter humor and odd relish—to grisly, gory matters. But those who've appreciated Dahl in various forms will find both the master of chills and the lover of chocolate here—in a fine, juicy collage of funny/awful boyhood highlights.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1984

ISBN: 0374373744

Page Count: -

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1984

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26 FAIRMOUNT AVENUE

            The legions of fans who over the years have enjoyed dePaola’s autobiographical picture books will welcome this longer gathering of reminiscences.  Writing in an authentically childlike voice, he describes watching the new house his father was building go up despite a succession of disasters, from a brush fire to the hurricane of 1938.  Meanwhile, he also introduces family, friends, and neighbors, adds Nana Fall River to his already well-known Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs, remembers his first day of school (“ ‘ When do we learn to read?’  I asked.  ‘Oh, we don’t learn how to read in kindergarten.  We learn to read next year, in first grade.’  ‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘I’ll be back next year.’  And I walked right out of school.”), recalls holidays, and explains his indignation when the plot of Disney’s “Snow White” doesn’t match the story he knows.  Generously illustrated with vignettes and larger scenes, this cheery, well-knit narrative proves that an old dog can learn new tricks, and learn them surpassingly well.  (Autobiography.  7-9)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-399-23246-X

Page Count: 58

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1999

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A ho-hum outing next to James Rumford’s first-class Traveling Man (2001).

THE AMAZING TRAVELS OF IBN BATTUTA

A first-person précis of the journeys taken by the Muslim world’s greatest traveler.

Originally published in Arabic, Sharafeddine’s recast tale takes the 14th-century Ibn Battuta on a long, looping course from his home in Tangier to India, then on to China and back for visits to Grenada and Mali. Aside from the occasional storm or hyena attack, however, “his” narrative is a wearying recitation of place names hooked to vague details—“Cairo impressed me with its mosques and hospitals”—and repeated mentions of visits to local “theologians and legal scholars.” Furthermore, dates in the narrative are taken from the Christian calendar only, and the prose is sometimes inexpertly phrased: “I hired a camel to continue my journey”; “After ten years, he made me the ambassador of India in China.” The illustrations, done in a style reminiscent of Persian miniatures, feature large-eyed figures in period dress and evocative glimpses of grand architecture. These scenes are, however, integrated into maps that are so stylized that it’s seldom possible to get a clear picture of where the lands and cities are. The abrupt ending leaves readers who want to know more about Ibn Battuta to their own devices.

A ho-hum outing next to James Rumford’s first-class Traveling Man (2001). (Picture book/biography. 7-9)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-55498-480-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Groundwood

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2014

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