“The BFG” by Roald Dahl is an obvious classic and beloved children’s book. And yet…I don’t like this book. I tried to like it. I tried to ignore the cannibalism theme, but no matter how hard I tired, I just couldn’t get on board. Essentially, Dahl has written a scary story about cannibalistic child-eating giants. It’s just plain gross. Now, I realize that my opinion on this book is not the popular one, and perhaps it’s because I am very biased when it comes to ideas of cannibalism. I find it sickening and my vivid imagination does way too good a job of putting those pictures in my mind. But, with all that being said, I will do my best to stay as unbiased as possible for the rest of this review.
Sophie, an 8-year-old orphan, witnesses a giant peering into a child’s bedroom, and not being able to take her eyes off the scene, is then spotted by the giant. Since humans aren’t allowed to know that giants exist, he snatches her from her bed and they race back to his home in Giant Country. Sophie is now his roommate as he will not oblige with her request to bring her back home. After a bit, she realizes that he’s a big friendly giant, thus naming him the BFG. She also finds out that he’s a dream-blower. He blows good dreams into the bedrooms of children in an effort to do good. The same cannot be said of the other giants in Giant Country, all they do is bad. The other much-larger, much-scarier giants eat humans, especially children, which they call “human beans”. When Sophie finds this out, she and the BFG come up with an elaborate plan to stop them.
Plot details aside, Roald Dahl is a gifted writer. He has this amazing ability to
choose the perfect words to help his stories come to life. In fact, Roald Dahl is such a talented author, that his books boast this claim: “The World’s Number One Storyteller.” My question is who gave him this title? Sure he’s incredibly talented, but is he really the world’s number one storyteller? Can a person really be given such a bold title? I would say that he is definitely one of the world’s best storytellers, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the world’s number one storyteller.
Recommended Age Group?
This book has been advertised as appropriate for all ages. I would not agree with that! However, it is sold in the 9-12 section. This I would agree with. I believe that most children in this 9-12 age range would have no trouble with the darker themes found in this novel and instead focus on the funnier aspects of this book, such as the fizzy drink called “Frobscottle” that gives the characters rocket-like flatulence. There may be some children who are more sensitive to the themes wound within “The BFG’s” pages. They may get nightmares of giants reaching their disgusting hands into their windows and plucking them from their slumber. I know I would!
The mean giants in Giant Country are also bullies, and I don’t throw that word around lightly, as I believe it has become wildly overused. But these giants are most definitely bullies. They repeatedly pick on the BFG, as he is the runt of the group who refuses to eat people. They beat him, throw him around, and chuck stones at him, and the BFG doesn’t do much to stand up for himself.
A wonderful theme in this novel is friendship. Sophie doesn’t have any friends, and after she gets to know the BFG, she considers him to be a lifelong friend. Also, there’s a great message found near the end of the novel that two wrongs do not make a right. This is found in the Queen’s decision to imprison the giants rather than have them killed.
This book is classroom-approved, with a few caveats. While it is best suited for grades 3 and above, there are few things to keep in mind when deciding if this is the right book for your group of students. Most importantly, keep in mind your students’ sensitivity levels. Do you have children in your class that suffer from frequent nightmares? If so, remember to keep them in mind when reading this book. Also, something very important to consider is the publication date (1982). Vocabulary was different back then, and there are some words/lines/images in this book that may be viewed as inappropriate or disturbing.
For example, there is some violent imagery. There is mention of heads being chopped off, and bones being on the ground under a boarding school’s window (the bones belonging to the children who were eaten). Also, when the heads of the army and air force are discussing what to do with the giants before they’ve been captured, they suggest to “mow them down with machine guns”, “…bomb the blighters” and “Shoot ‘em on the spot”.
As for language, here are a couple lines found in the book: “Where the devil are we going” and “Godforsaken”. There is also mention of three silly men who get themselves eaten because they had drunk too much beer and fell into the giant’s prison.
On a positive note, this book features some wonderful imagery, and it’s quite fun to read (aside from my personal bias against children’s stories featuring cannibalism). If you want to know for yourself whether it’s right for your class, it’s a quick read and won’t take you too long to get through it.
If you've chosen this novel to read in your class or home, we've created an amazing novel study to go along with it!