September 13th is Roald Dahl Day.
You probably have read a book by Roald Dahl. Or seen a movie based on one of his books. Perhaps it was one of these: James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, or Matilda.
Or maybe it was The Gremlins; The Witches; or Danny, Champion of the World.
As you can see from this sampling of titles, Roald Dahl wrote a lot of children’s books. Seventeen of them.
Even if you have read one of his books or seen one of the movies, you may not know how to say his name. His last name is easy: it sounds the same as the word doll. His first name, though, can be a bit tricky.
He was born on September 13, 1916 in Wales. His parents, however, were Norwegian (from the country, Norway) and gave him a good Norwegian name, Roald, which is pronounced roo-alld. Most people today, particularly in America, pronounce it like the word rolled. So if you say his name “rolled doll,” people will know who you mean.
Roald, by the way, was named after an explorer, Roald Amundsen, who led the first expedition to the North Pole.
When Roald was just three years old, his father died of pneumonia. His mother decided to remain in Wales rather than return to Norway to live with relatives. Part of the reason she did this was because her husband (Roald’s father) believed that England had the best schools and wanted their children educated there.
Rather than living as most kids here do – going to school during the day, but living at home – Roald went to boarding schools. That is, schools where you both lived and did your schooling. He was very lonely at school and missed his mother and sisters very much. When he was 13, his situation got much worse.
For four years he attended (and lived at) Repton School in Derbyshire, England. It was a very cruel place and boys often received terrible beatings there. The memories of this stayed with him all his life.
During the summers, Roald got to stay with his mother’s family in Norway. He had many happy memories of his time with them.
In a book called Boy: Tales of Childhood, Roald told about unhappy times at school as well as about happy times with his family.
He hated cruelty and harsh punishment. He also loved kindness and fairness. Cruelty and kindness often played important parts in the books he wrote. Notable examples of this can bee seen in two of his books, Matilda and The BFG.
After he graduated from school, Roald got a job with the Shell Petroleum Company. Following two years of training, he was sent to Africa. He was in Mombasa, Kenya, and in Dar es Salaam in the British colony of Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania). He loved Africa, particularly the wildlife.
In 1939, he joined the Royal Air Force and learned to fly planes. In 1940, he was ordered to fly to an airstrip in Egypt. However the location he was given was wrong. He couldn’t find the airstrip (of course) and ended up crash-landing in the desert. His skull was fractured, his nose was smashed, and he was blinded. In the hospital, he gradually got his sight back. However, the injuries he received would bother him all the rest of his life.
Later on, Roald worked as a spy.
His childhood experiences, as well as his military adventures and work as a spy gave Roald plenty of ideas when writing children’s books. And he didn’t just write children’s books, but books for grownups, as well.
He ranks among the world’s best-selling fiction authors. His books have sold more than 250 million copies and have been published in 63 languages.
Roald Dahl died on November 23, 1990 at age 74 from a blood disease.
On Roald Dahl Day, people like to read his books, watch movies based on his books, or – and Roald would really like this – try writing their own stories or making up funny words.
• Roald Dahl never learned to type. He wrote his books with a pencil on pads of yellow paper, usually sitting in a comfortable chair in his garden shed. He wrote for at least four hours every day.
• Roald Dahl could speak English, Norwegian and Swahili.
• He was tall: six feet six inches.
• In his books, Roald made up more than 500 new words and character names. Here are a few.Biffsquiggled: puzzled or confused. Scrumdiddlyumptious: yummy or delicious. Oompa Loompa: the small factory workers in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Churgle: to gurgle with laughter. Fizzwiggler: someone who is mean and cruel. Ucky-mucky: very messy.