For the first term back at school after the summer holidays, I’ve had tremendous fun reading Roald Dahl’s The Twits to our Year 3 class during their weekly library session.
What it’s about
Mr and Mrs Twit must be the most revolting married couple in literary history (please feel free to prove me wrong with other examples!). They are well suited to each other in their dirtiness, meanness, and sheer horribleness but their marriage isn’t harmonious – they play horrid tricks on each other such as putting worms in spaghetti and fake eyeballs in beer glasses. To other beings they are even worse – painting Hugtight glue onto tree branches to trap birds for their weekly Bird Pie and training a group of monkeys to be the first ever completely upside-down performing monkey group. Will they ever get what’s coming to THEM?
Mrs Twit, being ‘stretched’ by her horrid husband.
As always, Roald Dahl manages to capture what it is exactly that delights children and has them asking for more. And I mean that literally – in some of my reading sessions, when I told the children they would have to wait for the next week to find out what happened next, they started chanting ‘More! More! More!’. If you explain the plot lines to adults, they invariably exclaim how wicked and evil and twisted they are but the children lap it up, giggling and howling with anticipation. This book is a delight to read aloud too – I had great fun doing the voices for Mr and Mrs Twit, though, with my never-ending cough, I usually ended up having to take a break to have some water.
I think Roald Dahl’s gift is knowing that children can take quite nasty storylines as long as the villains get their comeuppance. In this way, they can revel in the grotesqueness of the characters, knowing that they will not get away with it in the long run. And the punishments meted out are pretty horrible, too. The only other author I have read who gives punishments that suited to the crimes is Carl Hiassen.
Additionally, Roald Dahl creates characters that are eminently memorable, and I’d go so far to suggest that, at times, his villains fit this bill more than (some of) the heroes. The Twits are a perfect example, as are Miss Trunchbull and The Grand High Witch – they are caricatures and I think children realise that they go beyond the norm and, therefore, aren’t really to be feared at all. The one exception lies in the witches, in the book of the same name. This is infinitely creepier as Grandmamma reveals that you can’t actually identify a witch perhaps until it’s too late – because they look and behave like normal human beings. This is the one Roald Dahl book that my daughter has been unable to read for that precise reason.
Now we have finished The Twits in Year 3, I am going to choose a new book to read to them. Hopefully it will elicit the same response!