George's Marvellous Medicine (by Roald Dahl)

While I think Roald Dahl was a very clever (and often amusing) writer, I’ve always felt that his books were more suited to older children and teenagers, rather than younger ones. My sons read one or two of his books when they were about six or seven, and I read the classic ‘Willy Wonka’ book to them at some point, but they appreciated them more when they were nearer ten or eleven.

However I knew that there were some intended for younger children, and my three-year-old grandson seems to have an endless appetite for books. So, having read ‘The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me’ to him at least three times, I started, at his request, on Dahl’s ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’. I didn’t think it would appeal too much, and on the first reading I skimmed or abbreviated much of the description.

But apparently he liked it very much, and the following day asked me to read it again. This time I read the whole thing, and he wanted it again a day later…

The story is about eight-year-old George, who is left at home with his old, cantankerous and unpleasant grandmother while his mother goes shopping. Dahl acknowledges that most Grandmas are nice people, but this one is one of his classic nasty creations, who bullies George, ordering him about, accusing him of growing too much, and turning his stomach by recommending that he eat, among other things, caterpillar-laden cabbage three times a day.

Grandma has to take some unspecified medicine several times a day, and George has been told that she must have a dose at eleven o’clock. With an hour to spare, he decides to make a different kind of medicine which, he hopes, will have some interesting results…

The book quickly becomes silly, as George fills a large pan with the contents of every bottle and can that he can find in the bathroom, the hottest spices from the kitchen, random items from the garage, and a great deal more. Each item is listed in some detail - much of which I skipped on my first reading aloud - and George then manages to boil and cool the mixture in time for the eleven o’clock dose.

The book is only just over 100 pages, and the first forty of them are taken up with the concocting of the ‘marvellous medicine’. Grandma is then given a dose, with dramatic results…

Dahl had a gift for engaging children’s interest, often with grotesque content, and the nastiest of people; I thought my somewhat sensitive grandson might find parts of it upsetting, but he seemed to think it was an amusing book, realising that it was all extremely silly, in a fun kind of way, and that the nasty grandma wasn’t (I’m relieved to know) anything like his grandmas.

Recommended as a read-aloud to any child who likes chapter books of this length, with line drawings every two or three pages, and who appreciates the bizarre and absurd. Also good for fluently reading children; the language isn’t dumbed down in any way; my edition (bought second-hand) was at one point owned by a child who must have been about eight or nine; that’s probably the intended readership, as George himself is eight. George’s father is excitable and ambitious but quite likeable, and his mother tries to keep the peace… they are not the usual unpleasant Dahl creations, but (compared to Grandma) quite ordinary.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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