By Amber Ebert, YPT School & Community Programs Manager
I discovered the books of Roald Dahl through my best friend in elementary school. She was reading The Witches and I was intrigued by the cover. The simple drawing of a smiling witch with long fingers surrounded by a bunch of bald little old ladies was like an invitation for me to pick up the book and dive into the story. From that beginning, I was hooked on Roald Dahl.
I read as many of his books as I could from my local library. The outlandishness of his stories gave me permission to despise the villains, care deeply about the good guys and contained just enough silliness to be unable to guess what happens next. Full of adventure, magic and extraordinary circumstances, Dahl’s writing sparked something in my imagination that changed the way that I looked at the world.
Written in 1961, James and the Giant Peach tells the story of James Henry Trotter, his horrible aunts, and how some magic, a peach tree and a collection of large, quirky insects can change your life. In this adventure story, James learns about how a family can be built from the people in your life that support you. James’ relationship with the strange insects living in the peach allows him to learn that sometimes the best friendships arise from the most unexpected encounters. Although told in a humorous way, it is also a story of unimaginable hardship and loss. The death of his parents and experiencing the depth of the cruelty of his aunts prompts James to develop an identity apart from the adults in his world. His adventure on the peach with the insects –who become a family of his choosing- changes him and helps him to become more equipped to navigate this sometimes strange and crazy world.
In YPT’s James and the Giant Peach study guide, we’ve prepared discussion questions that prompt students to consider how young people navigate a world that is largely controlled by the adults around them. How will they question authority? How does a young person assert themselves? What does it take for children to stand up for themselves? Also included are exercises that push students to think creatively and use their imaginations to tell stories. We want to encourage them to be as outlandish and adventurous as they can! It is our hope that this production and this guide are a starting point for students to evaluate and question their sense of fairness, justice and help them to figure out who they are as individuals.
To view the full study guide, including a lesson plan template, click here.