In her monthly series, Justine Wall shares ideas on how to interpret some of the best books for children. The activities are intended to be read by, or to, your child, depending on age.
No 4: The Witches, by Roald Dahl
A young boy becomes orphaned after his parents die in a car accident. He is sent to live with his grandmother, a gentle, kind, yet eccentric woman who tells him all about witches who live, disguised as women, all over the world and whose sole mission is to sniff out and kill all children. On a stay in Bournemouth, the young boy inadvertently enters the Annual Witches’ Convention, where he is sniffed out and turned into a mouse. He manages to escape, and he and his grandmother hatch a plan to turn the witches into mice, and rid the entire world of witches for good.
In true Dahl style, The Witches is an unconventional, gruesome and wonderfully gripping tale that children love. It allows for excellent reading aloud: a great many voices and personas can be employed, and children can be transported to a world of cackling, growling harpies and gentle comforting grandmothers. The book is suitable for ages 5-11. With the older age bracket, encourage children towards the more thought provoking activities, and allow them to verbalise at length their responses to the questions post-reading.
Why are we not told the young boy’s name in the book?
Can we trust everybody?
Can we know anything for sure?
What does being greedy mean?
Are there evil people in the world like the witches?
Are grandparents important?
Do animals deserve the same respect humans do?
Do you think the boy and grandmother succeeded in their plan?
Can we ever get rid of evil?
The witches are not women: they disguise themselves as well-meaning women to trick people and rid the world of children. Wearing disguises doesn’t have to be about doing evil deeds though. Try to think of all the superhero characters who wear masks to disguise themselves, then invent a new superhero: you could be Dog-Boy, the boy who saves dogs from boredom by chasing them around the garden, throwing balls for them, feeding them treats and teaching them tricks! What would Dog-Boy wear? Design an outfit for him, and make the mask for yourself to wear. Make sure that whenever you wear the mask you do good deeds.
The grandmother in the story is an example of a good person, and the witches the boy meets are examples of evil. Think about any other stories or books you have read, and on a large sheet of paper, write down the names or draw the bad characters on one side of the paper, and the good ones on the other. For example, in another Roald Dahl story Matilda Miss Trunchbull is a scary headmistress, and Miss Honey is a lovely kind teacher. They are examples of opposites. Your characters can be from as many stories as you can think of.
The little boy in the story trusts his grandmother: This means that he believes what she says and he believes that she will always do the best for him. Think about someone who you can trust: it may be your mum, your dad, a friend, or a grandparent. Make a Trust Tree: using coloured paper, cut out the trunk of the tree and in it, write the person’s name. Then cut out about 20 leaf shapes, and on each leaf write down a word or phrase that makes that person trustworthy: it may be ‘kind’ or it may be ‘they hold my hand’. Keep any remaining leaves near the tree, and whenever you think of another quality the trustworthy person has, write the word onto a leaf and add it to the tree.
Bruno Jenkins is an example of a greedy boy, and his greed lands him in trouble: desperate for the chocolate, he is lured into the witches’ conference where he is turned into a mouse. Many people in the world have very little and sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we shouldn’t be too greedy for things, whether it be food, toys or clothing. Do some research on these four charities and what they do: Oxfam, Wateraid, Save the Children and Shelter. Discuss supporting a charity of your choice with your parents.
Animals are very important in our lives, from the bees that pollinate our flowers and vegetables, to our trusty companions at home. The religion of Buddhism believes that we are all part of the same family: when we die, we can be reborn as animals, and when animals die they can be reborn as humans, so in effect, we are all the same. We as humans should treat every animal with love and respect. If you were to come back to life as an animal, what animal would that be? Draw and decorate a picture of your animal and explain why you’ve chosen that particular animal.
Justine Wall is a teacher, designer and writer. She has a 6 year old son. To get away from the chaos Justine reaches for her infinitely reliable blend of Assam and Earl Grey and often follows that with a Sipsmith and Tonic. Follow Justine on Instagram @hectorandhaddock and twitter on @HectorHaddock or visit Hector and Haddock.
How often do you read with your child? Is there a book that you would like Justine to explore? Let us know below.