World Book Day: Lessons in Chocolate

So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks…

These lines are from the poem "Television" in the book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” written by Roald Dahl in 1964. Mike Teavee is the last badly-behaved child on the factory tour to come to a not-so-nice end for being greedy. Since the boy sits around watching television all day, he cannot resist the chance to be reduced to a size where he actually fits within a television set.

The Oompa-Loompas sing a little farewell song for Mike. In this poem, they let everyone know that television is a very terrible thing and that it is probably best not to let your children go near it. In fact, why not supply them with books instead?! Those Oompa-Loompas are actually pretty intelligent and I am sure they know it has been Book Week here at Yateley Manor!

As a teacher and a parent I have loved re-discovering some of my favourite children’s books from years gone by. A quick trawl of the internet shows that many of my favourites appear high up in the charts of most popular or most read children’s books of all time. My favourite, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, appears regularly near the top of each chart.

I really love the morals that underpin so many children’s books. Willy Wonka and his strange set of activities is no exception. The book is rich in morals and even guidance for parents. But what should we learn from the book?

At it’s heart, the message is a simple one: “Be good.” It is an inventive spin on the classic morality tale format found in folktales all over the world. A poor and unlucky, yet kind and likable child is rewarded, while other children who embody typical childhood vices are punished. The moral is ‘Don’t be like them, be like Charlie’ - what goes around comes around. But it is a little more than that. There is the suggestion, as with Dickens, that poor children are often more virtuous than wealthy… and if a child comes from a rich, privileged family, that child will end up rotten — unless the parents are careful not to overindulge the child. So the subtext is, “It is always in part the parents’ fault.” This is especially the case with Veruca Salt.

What sets the story apart from the standard preachy fairy-tales it echoes is the creative and tantalizing setting of the chocolate factory, together with Dahl’s signature quirky fantasy and the colourful figure of Willy Wonka overseeing it all.

Children have a way of absorbing almost everything that is placed before them. Therefore, it is crucial to arm them with as much knowledge as possible while they are young. Exposure to a wide variety of literature is a bridge that connects them to unlimited amounts of success throughout life. Some of the most fascinating conversations I have ever had have been with children. This is because children are brilliant thinkers and have the most amazing ideas. Their cognitive development is founded on their response to the literature they have read and their ability to formulate opinions on the material.

Evaluation and analysis of literature is something that can be learned early on. Take, for instance, a book that only has illustrations and no words. Present a book of this kind to a child and you will be amazed at the variety of stories they can create from the pictures. Each time the book is opened, the story is likely to change. Expression is an effective form to help build self-esteem in children. The opportunity and ability to create stories from illustrated literature strengthens the levels of self-respect and esteem children will have for themselves as they grow older.

The value of children’s books is priceless as it brands the development of personality and social skills for young people. Because they are so impressionable during the developmental years, exposure to early literature helps children to be intelligent, courteous and caring people.