One of my favorite aspects of parenthood is connecting my kids to the pieces of entertainment I enjoyed so much as a child. For every positive Honey, Shrunk The Kids experience, though, there are plenty of shows, books or movies that they just don’t get into. I’m going to keep trying, though.
A few years ago, I realized that I didn’t have any Roald Dahl books on hand for when my kids decided they wanted to get into longer form stories instead of just picture books. I lucked out and got a good batch of them in an eBay auction. Since then, my wife and daughter have read through The BFG, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory and Matilda and a few others. Our son likes the idea of reading chapter books, but doesn’t always have the attention span.
While cleaning out my car, I found a tome that I figured might work for him: Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile. I didn’t know anything about this book which was originally published in 1977, but soon realized that it was both short and packed with Quentin Blake’s illustrations! It seemed like a great middle ground for our son, so we gave it a whirl and he loved it!
The basic story here’s pretty bonkers. The Enormous Crocodile lives near a town in Africa with a bunch of kids…that he wants to eat. As he travels from his home in the muddy river to the town, he repeatedly tells the animals he meets that he has “secret plans and clever tricks” that will allow him to eat children, but they all treat him like what he is: a nasty dirtbag.
Once he finally gets to town, EC tries a variety of Looney Tunes-esque “tricks” like posing as a see-saw, lunch bench and carousel ride-on. Luckily for the children, one of the previously mentioned animals pops up out of the jungle to save them until the elephant does the same and puts the Croc’s plans to rest permanently. (Spoiler, by throwing him into the sun!!!)
As we read this book, I got progressively more worried that our three year old little boy would not take kindly to the plot of a kid-eating croc. He asked some questions along the way, but seemed okay with it overall, especially when we got to that ending.
I think Blake’s always-fun illustrations really helped keep my son involved with the story even when it got a bit scary. They have that great comic strip quality that makes them less threatening than the words on the page might imply and help keep the whole thing at a more even mood.
From talking to my wife about the Dahl books she’s read with our daughter, I had forgotten how harshly his child characters are treated by some of the adults they’re surrounded by. One of them even starts out with something like “The first six years of his life were great, then his parents died and he moved in with his mean aunts.” That’s definitely the kind of thing that still happens in the world, but we tend not to frontline it in our children entertainment. I want to keep my kids as safe and undisturbed by the world as I can, but maybe letting little bits and pieces in through the works of an author like Dahl isn’t the worst thing in the world.