Too scary for children?

After writing recently about anniversary publishing, it seemed fitting to take this opportunity to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the publication of one of my favourite children’s books.


I read Matilda several times when I was younger, but when it was first published, I was the same age as the young girl in the book. Without possessing Matilda’s talent for reading at the unusually early age of 5 (my parents obviously weren’t cruel enough to me), it was a few years later before I was able to appreciate it. It seems that there is a debate amongst parents as to whether the book is actually suitable to read to a child of 5, with this Guardian article stating that it might be inappropriate:

It’s easy, I suppose, to see why. Matilda is at first trapped by her horrible family, and though she finds an escape through reading, she believes that she will find release when she is finally allowed to go to school. But when that day finally comes she finds herself in a new nightmare, involving a tyrannical Headmistress who turns out to be even worse than her family. School becomes a frightening place, where children are thrown out of windows and locked in cupboards with rusty nails sticking out of the walls. It’s no wonder parents might be afraid that their own child might suddenly develop a fear of going to school for the first time. Even Matilda’s kind and caring teacher Miss Honey is terrified of The Trunchbull, and although Matilda finds a way to help herself and her friends via her new found telekinetic powers, this might be difficult for a 5 year old to understand.

Having said all that, however, I don’t think we should shy away from reading books like Matilda to young children. Things have changed somewhat in the world of books for children and young people in the last 25 years, with Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games, which although not aimed at 5 year olds, are not without their own controversies when it comes to appropriate content for their intended audience.

I loved Matilda from the moment I first read about her, and ultimately her story tells us that there isn’t much you can do about the fact that there are good people and bad people in this world, but through strength of character, Matilda learns that she can triumph over adversity and that there can be a happy ending for those who deserve it.



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