The other day, my eldest daughter, who usually doesn't want anything at all, ever, handed me Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach and asked me to read it. We read the first thirteen chapters non-stop.
She was devastated, but didn't want me to stop. The protagonist's parents died when he was four (essential starting point for all children's literature, getting rid of the parents) and her face froze up a bit. Then the aunts were cruel to him and she cried. Eventually she couldn't speak or finish eating her banana and tears ran down her face and I had my arms around her as I read, but she didn't want me to stop and so I continued.
We reached the point where he's inside the peach and realises that he's now in the company of friends, and that's where we stopped.
Later, she asked, "It's not true, is it?"
She didn't mean the talking insects. She meant the cruelty.
Since then she has refused to let me read the book, even now all the scary parts are over and it's just the nice parts. She's very very thoughtful on the topic of aunts (she has five lovely aunts and a several very nice great-aunts too).
I'm going to suggest we all watch the DVD tomorrow, instead. It can't possibly be as scary as what happened inside her head when I read the book to her, and it might help reframe it all in a more digestible way, so that we can finish reading the book and move on.
Some children like Dr Who. She is afraid that he is lonely, and doesn't like to look at the monster masks in Waterstone's bookshop. Actual moments of peril just about finish her off.
And television violence upsets her, too.
I wonder sometimes whether I should try to desensitise her, but I don't think so, really; I think I should, at this stage, protect her. She does ok now with promises that the hero of the piece really will be ok in the end. But she hates seeing headlice washed down the plughole, because they might get lost in the dark down there.
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