By Leah Shafer '15, AmeriCorps member of the State Street Foundation Team with Higginson/Lewis K-8 School
“Sophie couldn’t sleep.” So begins Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s classic about adventure, danger, bravery, royalty, and happy endings. When I tried to pick just one book that I would recommend elementary-age students to read this summer, The BFG (short for the “Big Friendly Giant”) jumped to my mind immediately because of its restless beginning. When the book opens, it is the middle of the night—the “witching hour”—, and Sophie, an orphan, is lonely, bored, and more than a little bit curious. She creeps around the window curtains to find a giant, mysterious figure peering into dark houses—and suddenly, the figure snatches her up and leaps away, carrying her miles and miles to his home.
Sophie is a fantastic heroine. She is intelligent, courageous, courteous, imaginative, and determined in what she believes is right. But even more importantly, her longing for adventure makes her easily relatable for so many elementary-age students plodding through summer vacation. While dreams of worry-free summer days may seem glorious, summer also has a less glamorous side: it is hot, humid, and unstructured. Children want excitement and adventure, but it is hard to fill so much free time. Oftentimes, summer is boring. I know that students can identify with Sophie waking up in the middle of the night, feeling restless, and edging toward danger despite her common sense.
For these reasons, I hope that students can find joy in reading about Sophie’s adventures. Sophie soon realizes that the giant who snatched is not a dangerous child-eater at all, but a dream-giver who travels the world blowing good dreams into children’s bedrooms. When Sophie learns that her “big friendly giant” is plagued by nine much larger, much nastier, and much more carnivorous giants, who grab children out of their beds to eat them, she resolves to save her friend. Using her brains, diplomatic skills, and a whole lot of creativity, Sophie concocts a plan to visit the Queen of England and convince the Queen to save the children—and the BFG—from these terrible giants.
In these long summer days, I know that students will enjoy reading The BFG. Inside, they will find a sympathetic narrator, excitement and danger, and imagination that can solve any problem. I hope that reading The BFG gives student some excitement of their own, and I hope that, upon finishing, they will be encouraged to find unlimited adventures in other novels all summer long.