Posted in Challenge Accepted, This is real life.

Summer Challenge #9 (Part One): Matilda

Yes! I did actually finish all 3 of my classic faves (#9 on my Summer Challenge list) and I’ll be posting some thoughts about each one in three consecutive blog posts over the next few days, in the order I read them.

Let’s get to it.

Can I help, Mom?
Can I help, Mom?

“It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.”

Oh, Matilda, you still get me. You were one of my faves as a kid, for one simple reason: I kind of was you.

Granted, my family life was not like hers – and I loved my principal. And I’m not British.

But that whole idea of reading as escapism? I was on board. And I definitely preferred the company of the characters in books to real, live people(sometimes still do, depending). This caused a few problems for me socially (and, uh, sometimes still does, depending). But Matilda had an answer for that.


Truthfully, sometimes books are the best solace for me.

And the similarities between Matilda and I don’t end there:

  • She read Great Expecations at four years and three months; I read The Grapes of Wrath at ten.
  • Libraries have always been just as magical to me as they are to her.
  • I loved school; she loved school (minus Ms. Trunchbull).
  • I was that kid who teachers automatically looked for in class when they asked a question; Matilda didn’t even have to be looked for. Neither of us were as obnoxious as Hermione.
  • We both chose to study other things when the rest of the class was rehashing stuff we already knew (though my choice was more of an independent one, if you get my drift).
  • We both had very firm ideas of what was right and what was wrong as children, even when the adults around us didn’t have as defined a moral compass.

Photo Aug 10, 9 16 17 PM

We do not, however, agree on the merits of The Red Pony. Or John Steinbeck. I’m not a fan.

Reading Matilda for the first time as a young child (sixish, I think) made me feel not so strange during a time when I was struggling socially. It made me feel like it was okay to be the way I was, even if I didn’t have sweet brain powers like she did. Because there were few real-life interactions that inspired that idea for kid-me. Honestly, I would recommend that every parent of a gifted child, or even a child who just loves to read, take some time out to read Matilda. There’s a lot that Matilda can teach you about kids like me.

Now, as I re-read it, I instead of recognizing the connections between Matilda and myself (because I recall them without a reminder), I saw it from a teacher’s eyes. I noticed the sentence structure, the descriptive words, and even the deeper morals within the story. And I remembered why it’s always been so important to me to treat students like adults.

Photo Aug 10, 10 03 16 PM

Because they just might be geniuses and if they are, they will eff your shit up.

I’m not even kidding.

Also, you know, respect is the key to building good relationships and healthy communication.

But mostly the first thing.

Just like Matilda, I never understood why I was talked down to by adults, even if they liked me. Many of my students feel the same way, especially as I teach teenagers. Matilda’s story, as much as it is like my own, is also like my students’ in completely different ways. I may have felt misunderstood and socially awkward, but her issues were of a more serious nature. She’s unsupported, under-appreciated, and living in an unhealthy home that devalues education. Here are the similarities between her and some of my students. Not all.

But then, she meets Miss Honey, and at that point in the book, I realized that perhaps the idea of being a surrogate parent to some of my students wasn’t all a creation of adult-me, but aided by 6 year-old me, telling myself that if Miss Honey could be that parent, well then so can I.

Photo Aug 10, 9 24 37 PM

This time around, I saw the connections between Miss Honey and me. For example, I blush and demur when my kids compliment me in an earnest fashion, although there are deeper connections as well. Like how we treat students with respect, cater to them individually as much as possible, and, more than anything else, protect them.

Photo Aug 10, 9 36 33 PM

Honestly, the end of the book broke my heart. Because I know some of those kids. Kids whose parents would, if given the chance, hand me their children and say “See ya!” There aren’t many of them, but even one isn’t okay. Still, Dahl’s happy ending for Matilda reminded me how important that one positive influence, that one person who believes in them is to a kid like that.

It’s funny, I always remind my students of how children’s books teach us real lessons about life, but I had forgotten the important truths and inspiring ideas that Roald Dahl planted in my head. I owe you one, man.



We seek to learn, and when academics do not present the answers, we look inside our own beautiful imaginations for the key.

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