Alfred A. Knopf, 2002. 978-0-375-81424-2
Reason for challenge/ban: Magic/witchcraft, communism advocacy, racism, drug/alcohol references, offensive language
Synopsis: After his parents are killed in a terrible rhinoceros accident, James Henry Trotter goes to live with his two horrible aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. The two women feel no affection for James and make him do most of their chores and sleep in a tiny room with a very small window. One day in the garden, James is met by a peculiar stranger who hands him a bag of magic worms, telling him that if he eats them, wonderful things will happen to him. Unfortunately, James trips over the roots of the old peach tree on the way to the house, spilling the contents of the bag and causing extraordinary things to happen. A peach begins to grow from the tree that has never produced fruit, and when James ventures inside it the next night, he finds a grasshopper, a ladybug, a centipede, a glowworm, a silkworm, and a spider inside waiting for him so that they can being a fabulous adventure.
Why I picked it up: It was a Christmas gift from my aunt and uncle when I was seven.
Why I finished it: Dahl’s story is quirky and imaginative, and the reader is instantly endeared to the characters. James’ adventure is one that reminds us about how much we wanted to run away from home and experience the world from a different perspective. While I am sure that no one has family that is quite as mean as Sponge and Spiker, the characters are entertaining to read about in a way that makes one glad that their family is, by comparison, much nicer. The premise of the story is highly illogical, but that is part of the magic of children’s stories – there is no rulebook as to how the story will go or what the characters will do in any given situation. Personally, if it happened to me, I would be horribly frightened of the giant insects regardless of how friendly they were, but I am also not between the ages of 9 and 12. There is also something very reminiscent of Doctor Doolittle in that James is talking to creatures that would otherwise have no voice (if it were not for the magic worms). I think this speaks to the fact that as children, we have such a different knowledge of the world around us – everything is new and wonderful and exciting, and I daresay we lose a little bit of this fascination as we grow older. James and his story remind us about how we used to see the world, how we should see the world, and of the power of unfailing kindness.
Other related materials: James and the Giant Peach (movie); The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Clearly; Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume; Stuart Little by E.B. White; Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl; Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl; Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater; Matilda by Roald Dahl; The BFG by Roald Dahl; Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl