Monday, August 11, 2014

Danny the Champion of the World - Roald Dahl

I have been choosing chapter books to read with Ben just by remembering books I enjoyed as a child.  I haven't gone back to read them before sharing them with Ben, and while I can read ahead a bit as I go and censor the books here and there, Danny the Champion of the World is probably a good example of why I may need to start reading books to myself in their entirety again before sharing them with Ben.  Not to say that this isn't an amazing book, but just that I only really remembered just loving it, not quite the fact that some of the themes may have been a bit too much for a three-year-old.

On the heels of Charlotte's Web, I was ready to leave death behind and move on to a nice story about a boy and his father.  Danny the Champion of the World is the story of young Danny and his father.  They live modestly in a trailer next to their gas station, and one day, Danny discovers that his father is a pheasant poacher.  As his father takes him into the fold of the poaching world, with the secret that pheasants love raisins, the two begin to scheme about how effectively to steal all the pheasants from the rich man who owns the nearby Hazell's Wood.

Well in the first couple pages of the book, Danny's mother dies.  I actually tried to skip over that paragraph, but right away when Danny revealed that he lived with his dad, Ben asked where his mom was.  When I revealed that his mother had died, Ben then spent the next couple chapters obsessed with what would happen to Danny if his father died.  Of course that fear wasn't totally unfounded as early on Danny's dad does disappear into Hazell's Wood and Danny has to go after him.

We then had to address the issue of the keepers in the woods who carry guns.  Ben wanted to know if they would shoot Danny's dad?  What were their names?  Why did they need guns?  After all, the ENTIRE book is about hunting and shooting, so I should have anticipated this conversation!  We also had a few interesting discussions about why Danny's father needed to take the pheasants, and we delved a little into the idea of wealth disparity and whether it is ever ok to take things that do not belong to you.  Admittedly, it is difficult to have gray area conversations with a three-year-old without causing too much confusion.  Well, at least with my three-year-old, so I tried to keep it as simple as I could while still addressing the issues he seemed to find most fascinating.

All in all though, this is such a nice book about the relationship between a boy and his dad, that I liked when we settled into the plot and started to focus on the positives.  I made the decision not to abandon the book just because I didn't like all the hunting and stealing.  I was rewarded a week or so later when we traveled to England and stayed at a property with pheasants where people do a lot of hunting.  Ben recalled instances from the book and kept asking me if I remembered when Danny went to the woods and when the pheasants ate the raisins.  Then one morning at breakfast, as we were all suffering from jet lag, some of our relatives were discussing various sleeping pills - Ben got a kick out of the conversation and explained how sometimes pheasants eat sleeping pills (this was described as a way to catch pheasants in the book).  Everyone else was a bit confused, but I was glad to see that he had been listening to the story and was eager to talk more about it.

My lesson about reading ahead has been learned, but I've also learned that sometimes when you think certain subjects are over your kids' heads, they might still get something fun and useful out of them.

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