Summer reading isn’t just for grown ups, so I’ve been selecting a few titles to read to the kiddos. Recently we picked up Matilda from our local library, trusting that Roald Dahl could stimulate imagination and lead to a few good conversations.
Now I out myself as a hard-to-please parent. I’ve put off and put off reading it. I didn’t read the book as a child, and the movie was full of what I consider to be negative elements. (I’ll write more about that later.) In short, my instincts as a parent get riled when parents and authority figures are almost all bad guys and kids solve their own problems, which stem entirely from grownups. I hope you understand. Still, Roald Dahl is a big name, a creative thinker, a good writer, and a person with a literary gift with children, so I took the leap.
I loved the depiction of reading fever. I really appreciated that my children could see reading—even adult-level things—as personally achievable. I am grateful that, in Matilda, reading was an inter-generational bridge that supported communication, growth, imagination, problem solving, and sheer wonder. Awesome. So true!
Yet, this is not a book review. Writers, what turned out to be really great is that I was able to discuss something really heavy in an age-appropriate way.
Miss Honey was a victim of serious abuse, and I think it is very, very important for children to know that serious abuse happens. Sin is real, dangerous, and out to get you at any age! In Matilda, the abuse was over the top and the perpetrator got away with it precisely because it was unbelievable. At the same time that the outrageous nature allowed humor into an otherwise scary situation, it is also exactly what happens in real life! People disbelieve victims—and children in particular—yet something has to be done. The cycle needs to be broken. There must be escape.
So, I talked to the kiddos about sin and abuse. (I always make sure my children know that adults are sinners, too, and that they can always ask for help, not only from their dad and me, but teachers, police, and an assortment of others.) We talked about how victims don’t always look or sound like Miss Honey, but we can listen to them and still love them, even if their stories get scary or confusing.
Granted, my kids will better remember camaraderie among the mischievous and braids as a handle then the life lesson that followed, but I’m thankful I was able to enjoy a book with my kids and talk through it with them, too. A little bit of togetherness now in hopes that it can strengthen them for the times ahead. (Frankly, for good measure, I also already encourage my seven year old that if any of her friends get pregnant, we want to help the mother and child however we can. May as well start early establishing our home as a safe and supportive place!)
Negative elements put to good use! A good literary example for us all!