Fresh Fabulous Fifty-Year-Old Peach

For the fourteen years that I taught second grade, my students and I enjoyed an end of day read-aloud book. Some books were so good that I read them every year – including James and the Giant Peach. Imagine my surprise about halfway through this venture to discover that the book regularly appeared on the “Banned Book List.”

It seems the couple of swear words brought offense. Nevermind that 99.9% of the children had heard these words on TV, the playground, or perhaps even at home. Then James was disrespectful to Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. Nevermind again, that they richly deserved that disrespect. These critics also questioned the terror of James’s parents being eaten at midday by an angry rhinocerous escaped from the London zoo. [Kids, on the other hand, knew how to suspend their disbelief in this dire happening in the interest of a good story to follow.]

But the most awful thing at all to these judges was the magic that brought size, speech, and reasoning powers to a ladybug, spider, grasshopper, centipede, and earthworm and caused the peach to grow large enough to become food and transportation for an overnight from London to New York City.

Once the flaws were pointed out to me, I could find them if I looked hard enough. But I put them out of my mind when I saw the book through the children’s eyes as they responded to the reading – a rollicking, knee-slapping case of one small boy and some eccentric cohorts triumphing over their own weaknesses, the forces of nature, and evil adults. Imagination still lives in second graders, and they loved the fantasy.

Roald Dahl found a new world in this, his first children’s book, published in 1961. He would go on to give us more than a dozen more, including another of my favorites – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. His books continued to lean toward innocent children who overcame evil adults.

Fifty years later, children and adults who still have a firm grip on their imaginations may want to join in the celebration with James and his buddies. Happy 50th anniversary to the Giant Peach which the Ladybug declared to be “even better than those tiny green flies that live in the rosebushes.”