Songs and Verse – Roald Dahl

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If I compare my sons’ childhood with my own, I don’t think there is much that I envy them, but one thing that I would pick out would be their access to Roald Dahl’s books. Reading them aloud when they were very young, I think I got as much enjoyment from them as they did, but very soon they were devouring them by themselves. I thought we had gone through the whole range of Dahl’s novels, poetry books and autobiographies, so I was pleasantly surprised to come across a collection of his ‘Songs and Verses’, which does contain some previously unpublished material.

Having recognised Quentin Blake’s delightful style of drawing on the front cover, I was initially disappointed to find that he has not illustrated the whole book. I needn’t have been, as there is a fantastic variety of styles from the twenty-six artists who have contributed, including Gerald Scarfe and Babette Cole. Blake has written the foreword and has provided drawings for the opening of each section.

The anthology is divided into seven sections, the first of which is ‘There are things to see and do’. This opens with ‘The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me’, a familiar one to most Dahl fans. Then comes ‘The Centipede’s Song’ from ‘James and the Giant Peach’, where Dahl lets his imagination run riot over the centipede’s diet:

‘I often eat boiled slobbages. They’re grand when served beside
Minced doodlebugs and curried slugs. And have you ever tried
Mosquitoes’ toes and wampfish roes
Most delicately fried?’

It might be quite surprising that the second section is entitled ‘Best behaviour’, as not many of Dahl’s characters behave particularly well. Examples are the Queen in ‘Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and Goldilocks in ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’, both taken from ‘Revolting Rhymes’. Then comes ‘Concerning Augustus Gloop’, whom we all know from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory': well, he isn’t exactly a paragon of virtue. I love the double page from ‘Concerning Mike Teavee’ where Posy Simmonds’ depictions of a purple dragon, an orange elephant, Mr Toad and Squirrel Nutkin amongst others are interspersed with each four lines of verse.

The section ends with a previously unpublished poem, ‘The Shark':
‘He lay there gnawing, nibbling, munching,
Chewing, burping, grinning, crunching,
Until the whole of little Jim
Was pretty much inside of him.’

Be careful, dear parent, this is a bedtime story that might lead to nightmares…..

Section three deals with ‘Unlikely creatures’ and begins with ‘The Grobes’ from ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’, shown descending into the ‘quelchy quaggy sogmire’. ‘The Ant-Eater’ from ‘Dirty Beasts’ looks quite cuddly but beware, looks are deceiving. ‘The Tummy Beast’, also from ‘Dirty Beasts’, describes a young boy who is convinced that there is someone in his tummy:

‘ “It’s true!” I cried. “I swear it, mummy!
There is a person in my tummy!
He talks to me at night in bed,
He’s always asking to be fed,” ‘

After quite a few more creatures, we reach the fourth section, ‘Poisonous possibilities’. You will probably guess that ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ features here, along with Goldie Pinklesweet from ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’, who lives to regret experimenting with Granny’s laxatives:

‘We’re sure you do not wish to hear
About the hospital and where
They did a lot of horrid things
With stomach pumps and rubber rings.’

There is a lesson to be learned in that one.

In part five, ‘Look who’s here’, we meet the Grand High Witch from ‘The Witches’, decreeing a punishment for a witch who dared to answer back:

‘An idiotic vitch like you
Must rrroast upon the barbecue!’

Other delightful females included here are Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker from ‘James and the Giant Peach’, the former trying to hide her fat tummy, the latter the pimple on her nose.

Part six entitled ‘All together now’ brings us songs from the Giraffe, the Pelican, and the Oompa-Loompas amongst others. There is a rather menacing start in ‘Crocodile Rhymes’ from ‘The Enormous Crocodile':

‘The sort of things that I ‘m going to eat
Have fingers, toe-nails, arms and legs and feet!’

This is another one that might scare the youngest members of the family.

The seventh and final section is ‘And a few surprises’ and contains five previously unpublished pieces, two of which take us right back to Dahl’s school days. He obviously developed a hatred of umpires whilst playing cricket:

‘Out on the shining square there stands a man –
A mope-eyed sot, a gutless leprechaun,
White-coated, black at heart, Hell’s sacristan!
I think all umpires should be shot at dawn!’

Equally hated was Mister Unsworth, who twisted boys’ ears until they came right off and littered the floor.

There are forty-one songs and verse in total in this anthology, eleven of which have not been published before. The index lists the verses according to the novel or poetry book that they come from, ending with the unpublished pieces.

“The poetry is zany, delightful, grotesque, fantastic in the true sense, and yes, sometimes a little scary.”

The illustrations are so diverse that it is difficult to decide which work best, and everyone will have a personal favourite. I love the Roly-Poly Bird in his jagged yellow tree by Emma Chichester Clark, and the craziness of Neal Layton’s drawing for ‘I’m Going Going Going’. Some will prefer the softer touch Alexis Deacon uses for ‘The Nicest Creatures in the World’ featuring James of Giant Peach fame. Then I’m attracted again by Emma Chichester Clark’s double page spread for ‘There’s No Knowing What We Shall See’ with its Pink-Spotted Scrunch and Biddy-Bright Hen. Babette Cole charms me in ‘Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs’ and Satoshi Kitamura brings a delightful oriental slant to the dentist’s surgery in ‘The Porcupine’. Gerald Scarfe’s caricature of ‘A Nobleman Visiting Coutts’ is a masterpiece.

The poetry is zany, delightful, grotesque, fantastic in the true sense, and yes, sometimes a little scary. But there is nothing else quite like it – I don’t think the world will ever have another Roald Dahl.

This is a beautiful book to read, to look at and to handle. The illustrations are all in colour, the font is a comfortable size, and the quality of the paper is excellent. It would make a wonderful present for any Roald Dahl lover who wants a book to treasure. I shall use it for reading practice with pupils having private tuition: they love the humour of Dahl, and this superior quality of book with delightful pictures should whet any child’s appetite. We can occasionally offer something better than a paperback!

Songs and Verse by Roald Dahl
Published by Jonathan Cape, London
192 pages

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Songs and Verse
by Roald Dahl

One Comment on "Songs and Verse – Roald Dahl"

  1. Elle Johnson
    13/03/2010 at 11:19 Permalink

    I love all of roal dahls roems rip roald x 😉

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Written by frangliz
frangliz

I have a degree in Fine Art but never actually worked in that field. After almost two years in Paris, I moved to Cairo and spent many years there teaching English language and literature in schools. I came back to the UK in 1999 and now work with young children. I also tutor students of all ages in French, English or Maths. I enjoy writing reviews in my spare time; another hobby of mine is photography. I have two sons who are now grown up, both working in IT.

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