I just saw Roald Dahl and Steven Spielberg’s movie, The BFG. (Big Friendly Giant to all you new guys.) It’s totally cool. For those who don’t know, it’s about this eight-year-old girl Sophie who gets snatched away from her orphanage bedroom by an awfully tall giant and whisked away to the giant’s cave way off in Giant Country.
I won’t tell you everything that happens after that. There’s the problem of the nine other bad giants that eat kids. (Our nice giant is a vegan.) And the trip to Buckingham Palace to warn the queen that the bad giants are about to invade. But that’s just plot stuff. The charm and essence of the thing is the BFG’s job. He captures dreams—in a butterfly net, no less—and stores them in jars and sneaks into town late at night and blows them into the bedrooms of sleeping children. With his long, skinny trumpet.
“Nice dreams. Lovely golden dreams. Dreams that is giving the dreamers a happy time.”
A great leitmotif are the Frobscottle and Whizzpoppers. Frobscottle is a bubbly green drink where the bubbles float down instead of up. So instead of burping, it has you making great green Whizzpoppers out of your down part. They lift you off your feet.
Sophie is a proper British girl and is put off by this, but she comes around to it in the end. As it were. Even the queen and her Corgis try Frobscottle and the results are diverting.
You’ve got to love Dahl’s wackiness. He’s the king of wacky. But I think my favorite thing of his is the way he sticks it to the grownups with this naughty stuff. He often said the key to his success was conspiring with children against adults. (I have found with my own children’s stories that the more I can slip past the naughty police, the better. Up to a point, of course.)
About the movie itself: It tracks the book straight down the line (except for changes that the genre demands). The visuals are great. (Hey, this is Spielberg, right?) The makeup is magical. (Think Harry Potter.)
And the acting: They say Mark Rylance (the giant) is the greatest stage actor of his generation. You may have seen him in Bridge of Spies and the TV series Wolf Hall. (A KGB colonel and Thomas Cromwell, respectively.) He deals with the BFG role wonderfully, and manages to get Dahl’s goofy words out cleanly. E.g., ughbwelch, probsposterous, quogwinkles. (I know, this is part of any good actor’s job, but YOU get the book and try rattling off some of these in the middle of a sentence!)
I put Ruby Barnhill (Sophie) at the top, though. She is eight years old in the story and looks it in the movie. Oh, maybe ten—but her front teeth aren’t even in straight yet. She handles the part of a proper little English girl like a twenty-year-old pro. Her delivery and enunciation are right there, and she comes off as a real, live kid. Like she’s done this for ten years. I can’t say she’s better than Rylance—she’s not—and anyway that’s apples and oranges. But I do put her performance at #1. For the true and ample reason that it’s easier to play a grotesque than a real, natural, sure-enough individual person. You can go look it up!
Even before I got into writing the Night Buddies books I was a fan of Roald Dahl—author of books including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach. He is known as one of the 20th century’s best children’s authors, and I can certainly say that as a reader his books never failed to captivate my imagination and pull me inside the stories; he had me hooked from his first word to his last. But when I took on the task of writing my own book series, I started looking to Roald Dahl not only as my favorite author, but also as one of my biggest writing inspirations.
Dahl began his writing career by writing down the things that he knew. His first published story was about his experience as a fighter pilot in World War II, and his first children’s book, The Gremlins, was about “mischievous little creatures that were part of RAF folklore.” This is where I learned my first lesson in storytelling: writing what you know, even in books that take place in worlds far from reality, will always get you the best results. In Night Buddies, even though the books are entirely fictional, I had to use emotions, situations, and types of relationships that I knew in my life in order to make them come alive on the page.
Books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory reach children because they are unique, they are told from the voices of children who differ from the norm, and they use more imagination than most people could ever dream of having. Dahl didn’t feel the need to make everything in his books “pretty,” the way some children’s authors do, and is in fact known for his dark humor and sometimes grotesque scenarios. This kind of writing inspired me to write the Night Buddies books in the most real, authentic way I knew. The creativity he used in his stories inspired me to keep thinking further outside the box in order to create books I can now say I am proud to have written and feel confident that children will love.
“I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn’t be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful.”
This quote by Dahl stuck with me throughout my writing experience, and should inspire any of you attempting to write your own children’s books. In the process of writing a book, sometimes it is easy to get caught up in using impressive language or trying to come up with sweeping universal themes, but remembering that what children need is a book that they are going to have fun reading makes the entire writing process much less intimidating, and always leads to a better book being written.
If you haven’t read one of his books, I suggest you drop everything and go pick one up now. You’ll be a happy reader—and a better writer—for it.
An author’s favorite writers can often say quite a bit about where they draw inspiration for their own novels from. For instance, the Night Buddies books are full of imaginative descriptions and witty dialogue, which could be why one of Ol’ Sands’ favorite quotes comes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: “‘And what is the use of a book’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?’”
If you want to learn more about our favorite author, take a look at some of these quotes that Ol’ Sands has declared his favorites.
“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” Roald Dahl
“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.” Rudyard Kipling, Many Inventions
“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and man.” Mark Twain
“I hate writing, I love having written.” Dorothy Parker
We’re glad you’ve written too, Ol’ Sands!
All of these quotes have come directly from author Sands Hetherington’s Goodreads page. Make sure you go out and add him as a friend so you can keep updated with all of his favorite quotes, current reads, and of course, information about the Night Buddies series!