Despite being blazoned at the head of the front cover, Roald Dahl has been dead many a long year and has had nothing to do with this picture book. It has been devised in what the Roald Dahl Story Company and Puffin Books – generously helped by Quentin Blake – hope will be found to be in his spirit (perhaps time and the rigours of Covid have seen a falling off in the rate of sale of his books which, we are told, world-wide, amounts to one every two and a half seconds.) The two authors, named in tiny print on the book’s imprint page (are they on a royalty or just given a flat fee) have certainly done what was asked of them and surely deserve a more prominent billing.
They make a good Dahlish beginning by shooing off two good little children from their readership and opening the pages to a parade of Dahl specialities
‘…the more unusual child,
The one who’s mischievous and wild.’
With Quentin portraying multiple varieties of that specimen the show is suitably exhausting until we reach the sad portrayal of a line of grey grown-ups who have forgotten the excitements of life. This brings in the Dahlish moral injunction to ‘grow down, not up’:
‘Just look at all the very smartest
Scientists and famous artists
Who had the wit, the grit, the spunk,
To think thoughts up-till-then unthunk.
The wild children of the earlier pages are urged to be outrageous and break the mould although baking the biggest chocolate would seem to be a more limited ambition than being a fearless flying ostrich doctor. Nor should the advice be confined to the unfledged young. Might the publisher be prevailed upon to send free copies to members of our present administration?