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Book: Danny, Champion of the World

July 19, 2009
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As part of my continuing comfort-read spree, I present to you Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World.

A very comforting story about a boy and his marvelous father. Not so marvelous that he is unrealistic… but just marvelous enough to be inspirational for any parents out there wondering how to be just a little bit more ‘sparky’ (see end of this review).

Danny and his father live in a tiny gypsy caravan next to their small filling station. All they own in the world is the caravan, the filling station, and the small meadow behind the station. Danny’s father is a mechanic and a storyteller. He is also, as he reveals to Danny one fateful night, a poacher.

**(sound of record scratching to a halt)**

A poacher? How did I forget that this story was about pheasant poaching? This struck me as completely absurd. Who writes a story about pheasant poaching? Isn’t that… well, bad?

However, once I got over my incredulity, the story continues and is actually very engaging, funny, and surprising. Much more tame than Dahl’s other books (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, The Glass Elevator, James and the Giant Peach, The BFG, The Witches, etc…) this story still has twinkly elements of Dahl’s slightly naughty sense of humor and penchant for the fabulous. Why not drug over one hundred pheasants with spiked raisins?

The entire village is against this one nasty man (the one with all the pheasants), and the way the story comes together is very tidy and fun. Danny and his father have a very comforting bond, and his father is truly the most wonderful father a boy could ever imagine.

This book kind of made me think about my own dad, who is, putting it kindly, a bit quirky himself. When I was growing up, we used to go for a sprint after dinner (yes, a sprint after dinner) on the big hill near our house. He’d time us as we sprinted up this steep hill, and kept track of our times so we could see improvement.

We used to also go for spur-of-the-moment moonlight cross-country ski trips when the weather turned just right for snow. We lived near a small mountain and it was great fun to pack up after dinner and go skiing for an hour or so.

We never went poaching, but we did all sorts of other things which now might seem a little crazy, a little kooky. But we loved it, absolutely loved it. I can tell stories now that astound my friends. About the time we dug a well in the backyard. About the pole-vaulting pit in the backyard, filled with horse manure (soft, and you can use it for the garden later!). About the chickens who helped weed the garden, and the crawdads in the small above-ground pool we had for awhile. About the crappie in the sunken bathtub. About the homemade ice cream every night.

Sure, lots of not-so-good stuff too. More fish and venison than I’d ever force my own children to eat. Perhaps not quite enough supervision on fishing trips (not that we minded). Etc. But the good stuff — it made me who I am today. Creative. A problem-solver. Not afraid to come up with unlikely solutions to get the job done/make ends meet. Able to find fun in almost any situation. Good stuff. (please note: my mom was also good at making things fun in any situation. Remind me to tell you the story of the time she shot red berries out of her nose to cheer us up on one particularly miserable fishing trip. Clearly my father did not have a lock on the ‘quirky, fun parent’ title…)

As Dahl writes on the very last page of the book: “A Message To Children Who Have Read This Book: When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants — and deserves! — is a parent who is sparky!!”

I could not agree more.

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