Thursday, September 15, 2011


Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published in 1988
Grade Level: 5th grade 

Synopsis: Matilda is the story of an extremely bright and intelligent child.  The book chronicles her life from the time she was born to the time she begins school.  Her parents, Zinnia and Harry, have never appreciated her.  Harry owns a used car shop and Zinnia loves playing Bingo, yet  They could not understand why their only daughter was so different from them and their son, Mikey.  When Matilda finally begins school they send her to Crunchem Hall, a terrible school that is run by headmistress Miss Trunchbull.  Matilda is placed in Miss Trunchbull's niece, Miss Honey's class.  Miss Honey immediately discovers that Matilda has intelligence, knowledge, and skill beyond her other students.  She asks that the child be moved to the more advanced grades, but Miss Trunchbull firmly disagrees.  
     Eventually, Matilda discovers that she has the power to move objects with her mind.  She refines her skill and performs tricks on Miss Trunchbull in order to get back at her for mistreating Miss Honey and the other students.  She makes the headmistress believe that the ghost of Magnus, Miss Honey's father, has come back to get revenge.  Miss Trunchbull becomes so frightened that she disappears, never to return.  Miss Honey gets her house back and becomes the new principal at Crunchem Hall.  Meanwhile, the cops have discovered that Harry Wormwood has been using stolen car parts to fix people's cars.  Before escaping the country, Harry and Zinnia allow Miss Honey to adopt Matilda.  They give her up willingly and show no signs that they will miss her.  
     In the end, Matilda stays with Miss Honey and they live happily ever after. 

Theme/Skill: In Dahl's story, Matilda is the heroine; the good and clever young girl who wins in the end by overcoming the bad adults who are in positions of power.  The author's plot and character descriptions show a distinct separation between adults of authority and children.  Throughout the book, Matilda's parents and the headmistress of her school are portrayed from the point of view of the child who would find adults mean and intimidating.  They eventually get what they deserve in humorous and silly ways that seem as though they have come straight from the imagination of a child.  Certain events in the story may seem far-fetched, but to a child they describe their innermost fantasies, such as flying, performing magic, overcoming wickedness, and rescuing innocent victims, who in the case of this story are Matilda's classmates and her teacher, Miss Honey (Tomalin, Mary. (1999) "Penguin Readers Factsheets; Teacher's Notes; Matilda." Pearson Education, Factsheet about Matilda).  Perhaps the imagination in this story could spark a unit on creative writing in which the students use what they know about how Roald Dahl wrote and their own imaginations to write fantasy for children/their peers.

Pre-reading activities: Photocopy the illustrations on pages 3, 5, 6, 11, 14, 22and 34, and cut off the captions.  Put students into small and give each group a set of photocopied illustrations.  No student should have a copy of the book yet.  Have the students write a caption or a couple sentences describing what is happening in the illustration.  After students have completed this in their groups, give them a copy of the table of contents from Matilda.  Instruct the students that their task is to match each picture with a chapter heading.  They must give a rationale for each decision.  Tell the students that two of the chapter headings do not have illustrations.  This is a good way to introduce students to what they will see in the book and provide them the opportunity to infer while working with their peers. 

Post-reading activities: In order to check for understanding, I believe that teachers should check that students understand the topic at hand in more than one way or that they are able to make connections to personal experience or previous knowledge.  An activity that could be done after being introduced to all the main characters would be to have the students work in pairs to write a description of Matilda from the point of view of her father, Mr. Wormwood, Miss Honey, and Miss Trunchbull (any characters would be appropriate to use).  Students could also work with pairs to come up with three to five words that describe four characters from the book.  The students would need evidence, such as a quote or page number to support their decision.  (Ideas adapted from the Factsheet about Matilda).

Assessment: Discussion would be a huge part of informal assessment in these pre and post reading activities.  I feel that it is important for students to hear what their peers have to say in order to learn to critique and respectfully respond to others.  Following several in class discussions, students could present assignments in pairs and be formally graded on them.  Before presenting the teacher would take time to talk to the students about the importance of visual aids, volume, eye contact, and enthusiasm.  These could be the four qualities that students would be graded on. 

Reflection: I am a firm believer that no matter what a person's age, they still have part of the child that they once were inside of them.  People like to hear stories of triumph; it warms the heart and makes them want to hear it all over again.  Roald Dahl created such a story when he wrote Matilda.  Matilda is a cute and brilliantly smart child who is misunderstood by her family; a feeling that I am sure just about all people have felt before in their lives.  I am confident that when you pick up this book, no matter how young or old you are, that you will fall in love with Matilda.  You will cringe at the ingratitude of her family, shiver in fear of Miss Trunchbull, sigh in relief when Matilda and Miss Honey escape the Trunchbull's house, and laugh out loud when Matilda uses her gift.  I loved it, my parents loved it, and my sister loved it...and you will too!
Roald Dahl; in his element

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