Quote of the book: “My father, without the slightest doubt, was the most marvellous and exciting father any boy ever had.”

With Roald Dahl Day celebrations in mind, I’ve picked out this book to review today. I picked it up secondhand about a year ago for a number of reasons with the main one being that children still love Roald Dahl. I then had the pleasure of reading it to a large group of children over the course of a month. Once again, I was surprised how Dahl’s words cast a spell over them from beginning to end and this was even more impressive given that this book differed in many ways to Dahl’s other works.

The BFG, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Magic Finger, Fantastic Mr. Fox…these books are legendary and still provide as much excitement and joy today as when they were first published. It is impossible to imagine these tales without the influence of Dahl’s colossal imagination, magical storylines and surreal characters.

Danny The Champ is different in that it is quite a simple tale. There is no element of magic or surprise. There are no unusual characters or strange events. Instead it merely tells the tale of one boy and his father as they take on the world around them. It is amazing to see that even when stripped down to this level of basic story, Dahl still manages to weave a wonderful story that is equally magical in its own right.

Danny The Champ is a classic love story in the sense that it deals with the deep bond between child and parent. It is an ode to any loving parent out there who has taken the time to make the life of a child extra special. Danny lives with his father in a small caravan at the back of his dad’s workshop. They don’t have much in the way of material wealth but this little family unit of two is rich in love and affection. Early on it is clear that Danny dotes on his father and rightly so as this gentle, affectionate man is the model parent. Engineering kites, cars and fire-balloons are just many of the fun activities that father and son enjoy together alongside the familiar routine of school, work and mealtimes.

Dahl writes this story in a series of short, snappy chapters that draw the reader into an exciting world of countryside adventure. As mentioned above, this book contains no element of magic or sorcery yet once the sun goes down we are brought into the almost mystical world of Hazell’s Wood at twilight and it is here that the spirit of adventure and mischief begins. Danny’s father has a deep, dark secret you see…

Mr. Victor Hazell is everything Danny’s father is not. He is obscenely wealthy, rude, brash and “a roaring snob.” He breeds pheasants so he can invite “the right people” to his shooting parties and wear his fancy waistcoats. He is basically the classic Roald Dahl villain. This makes Danny’s dad our story’s hero, a kind of Robin Hood who robs pheasants from the rich to feed the poor. Each night, we are drawn into the murky world of pheasant poaching as Danny and his father graduate from poaching a handful of pheasants to together hatching a masterplan plan for the biggest score of all.

Without giving too much away, I loved the ending to this book. It had enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing and there was plenty of drama and entertainment value. The madcap adventures will make you laugh and smile but it is Danny’s relationship with his father that will linger long in your memory. Many Roald Dahl readers might not get to this one, but it will still sit quietly confident up on the shelf with its more famous peers and I strongly urge you to give it a go.

Would I recommend this book to a friend?

Yes, it deserves to be up there with Dahl’s best known work. Read this one and you will look differently at the genius of Roald Dahl once more.

Afterthought:

  • This was one of few examples where Roald Dahl wrote about his own firsthand experiences. Upon moving to Buckinghamshire, Dahl befriended a local man who would go out pheasant poaching late at night. They never caught anything but the excitement stayed with him for the rest of his days!
  • Danny’s blue caravan was actually based on the blue caravan in Roald Dahl’s garden!

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Thinking of buying multiple copies to read this book with a class? Get the best possible price here:

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