Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, James and the Giant Peach… children and adults have been delighted by Roald Dahl’s books for generations. September 13 is Roald Dahl Day, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate our favourite Dahl stories and characters with fellow fans all over the world.
Here, Dahl fan and former primary school teacher Laura Steele of educational resources experts PlanBee shares her top facts about the much-loved author.
Who was Roald Dahl?
Roald Dahl is one of the most famous authors in the world. His children’s books have been translated into almost 60 different languages, and sold over 250 million copies worldwide.
He was born on September 13 1916, in Llandaff, South Wales. His parents were Norwegian.
Roald joined Llandaff Cathedral School in Wales when he was seven. He was said to have been a mischievous child. On one occasion, he and his friends devised the ‘great mouse plot’ when they hid a dead mouse in a jar of gobstoppers in order to give an unpleasant old sweet shop owner a fright. The boys were later found out and caned by their headmaster while the sweet shop owner watched. (This story, as well as many other tales from his childhood, is recounted in his autobiography, ‘Boy’.)
As a result of the caning, Roald’s mother withdrew him from the Cathedral School and sent him to St Peter’s Boarding School in Weston-super-Mare. He was just nine years old. Roald was very homesick to begin with, and even pretended to have appendicitis so that he would be sent home!
When he was 13, Roald became a pupil at Repton School in Derbyshire. One of the rare highlights of being a pupil there was when the boys were asked to sample and rate new chocolate bars for Cadbury! Overall, however, he did not enjoy his school days, calling them ‘days of horror’ that were filled with ‘rules, rules and still more rules that had to be obeyed’. When, aged 17, he was asked by his mother if he wanted to go to university, his reply was: ‘No, thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to faraway wonderful places like Africa or China.’
Roald’s first job with an oil company sent him to work first in Kenya, and then Tanzania. In Tanzania, Roald saw many wild and dangerous animals, including lions, rhinos and hyenas, but it was the snakes he feared the most.
Roald joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Kenya at the outbreak of the Second World War, and became a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, he crash-landed in the Western Desert of North Africa and was badly injured.
After being discharged from the RAF, Roald became a British Intelligence Officer (a spy!), passing on important information to the government. He worked alongside another spy, Ian Fleming, who later became famous for his James Bond 007 series.
Becoming an author
In 1961, Roald Dahl’s first novel for children, ‘James and the Giant Peach’, was published. In total, he wrote 20 children’s books – 17 fiction books and three poetry books.
Do not disturb!
Roald had a small hut at the bottom of his garden where he would go to write. It contained a battered old armchair and a table of strange mementos, including a silver ball made from old chocolate wrappers, and a piece of his own hip bone that was removed during an operation!
Ten Fun Facts about Roald Dahl
- Roald’s parents named him after the Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, who was the first man to reach the South Pole, in 1911.
- In Norwegian, Roald’s name is pronounced ‘Rooo-al’, with a silent ‘d’.
- When he was a child, he had two pet mice called Marmaduke and Montague.
- As an adult, Roald was 2 metres tall.
- He could speak three languages, English, Norwegian and Swahili, the official language of Kenya and Tanzania.
- Roald’s first ever piece of published writing was an account of his plane crash during the Second World War.
- Roald invented over 250 new words (there is even a special Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary).
- According to his teachers at school, Roald was never very good at writing.
- September 13th, 2020 would have been his 104th birthday.
- Roald wrote for four hours every day. He did not want his children disturbing him while he was in his writing hut, so he told them wolves lived there!
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