This past weekend I set myself a new goal: to read one children’s book every weekend. This will not only make a dent in the growing pile of books that, until yesterday, was on the floor of my home office (yesterday I bought and assembled a cheap but serviceable Target bookcase), but also, more importantly, it will help build my expertise in the ever-growing field of children’s literature, which I claim to know enough about to teach.
On Saturday and Sunday, I read The Witches by Roald Dahl. This is only the third Roald Dahl book I’ve ever read, which I realize makes me a total children’s lit poser (a lot of things make me a children’s lit poser, but I’m working on that). I am, however, familiar with the plots and themes of many of his other books, in some cases through movies (like Steven Spielberg’s recent The BFG). The Witches is different from many of the books because it’s written in first person, and although nobody would mistake this for a realistic novel, I think Dahl draws a bit from his own upbringing as a person of Norwegian ancestry growing up in the UK. I hope Grandmamma, a delightful character, is based on one of his real grandmothers. Like many of Dahl’s books, this one makes you laugh at things that should probably terrify you (though some of Quentin Blake’s illustrations, which are usually just wacky, are genuinely frightening in this book), and it also contains elements of the classic morality tale–e.g., the boy who tortures small animals and gets turned into a mouse himself (though the kind protagonist also gets turned into a mouse, of course). I think what struck me most about this book is how much it reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, which I read recently. Gaiman’s work in general is often Dahl-esque, but I really see a resemblance between these two books. Though The Witches is sillier, both mingle humor and terror, both have curious and seemingly dauntless children as protagonists (well, that’s true of 75% of children’s literature), and both include female antagonists who seem sweet and polite on the surface but quickly reveal themselves to be malevolent, specifically to children. There’s probably something psychoanalytic here–I’ll leave that to someone else to explore.
I briefly toyed with the idea of turning this into a themed blog and writing each week about the children’s book I had read the previous weekend. I know that themed blogs tend to be more successful because readers know what to expect. But I also know that I would miss writing those wonderful gut-spilling confessional pieces I like to post every few months, as well as writing about movies, events, academia, and Christian life. So I’m not going to fundamentally change the nature of this blog, but I probably will include a short update most weeks about the children’s book I’ve read most recently.
Another regular feature I’d like to include is a brief spot about some food I’ve prepared recently, whether from a recipe or from my own invention–usually the former, since I’m not a particularly imaginative cook. But I did come up with this one all by myself: Italian nachos. I’m sure I’m not the only person to have invented something similar, but it was a new idea to me. The story is this: I had some Tostitos and nothing to dip them in. So I started dragging things out of my refrigerator and pantry. My nachos ended up with the following toppings: shredded mozzarella, crumbled goat cheese, a spice blend left over from a recipe (it was actually more Indian, but Italian nachos are, by definition, multicultural anyway), oregano, cilantro, parsley, lime juice (this was a nod to traditional nachos; I could have used lemon juice to be more thematic), olive bruschetta, and sliced cherry tomatoes. I microwaved it all for a minute, and the result was delicious. Obviously, there are endless possible variations depending on what you have on hand, but I have one piece of advice: if you don’t have olive bruschetta, use a little bit of olive oil. You need some oil to bind everything together.
So there you have it. I recommend getting a copy of The Witches and making yourself some Italian nachos immediately. I would not recommend enjoying both at once, however. The Witches is a little gross. (It’s Roald Dahl; what did you expect?)