Authors We Love: Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is the author of many fictional books for children.  Most of his books were illustrated by Quentin Blake.  I have always enjoyed these books as well as the illustrations.  Dahl uses very inventive language, including interesting words such as “gnazzle,” “knid” and “snozzcumber.”  His books are very funny and full of entertaining nonsense.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about a boy named Charlie who lives in a small home with his poor family.  Willy Wonka, the owner of a famous chocolate factory, announces that five lucky children will be invited to tour his factory.  The children would be selected by finding one of five golden tickets hidden inside the wrappers of chocolate bars.  By sheer luck, Charlie receives one of the five golden tickets.  As the story unfolds, we discover the wild and zany rooms in Willy Wonka’s factory, and finally we learn the real reason why Mr. Wonka invited the children to his factory.

The BFG tells of a little girl named Sophie who lives in an orphanage.  Sophie is captured by a twenty-four-feet-tall giant, who takes her to a cave in a faraway land called “Giant Country.”  There she learns that the giant’s name is the “Big Friendly Giant,” or the “BFG,” for short.  The BFG is actually the runt of nine other giants, who are about fifty feet tall and are very wicked, unlike the BFG.  The other nine giants like to gallop off to different countries to gobble up about two to six people at a time.  Sophie and the BFG come up with a plan to put a stop to the other giants’ evil deeds.

In Matilda, a girl named Matilda learns how to read at a very young age, but her parents mistreat her and hardly even notice her talents.  When she starts school, Matilda encounters the giant, nasty headmistress named Miss Trunchbull.  The headmistress terrorizes the entire school until Matilda discovers special powers within herself.  This is my favorite of Roald Dahl’s books because of the charming characters and wonderful story.

Most of Roald Dahl’s books are about ordinary children who discover extraordinary things.  Dahl usually includes fantastical characters, such as man-sized insects and little people known as “Oompa Loompas.”  It is for good reason that his books are very popular and are considered classics for young readers.  I highly recommend these books to people of all ages.

-Oliver H.

The works of Roald Dahl are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. They can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring is the first novel in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The story is centered upon a magic ring found by Bilbo Baggins sixty years earlier during The Hobbit that must be destroyed. Bilbo has aged by the time of The Fellowship of the Ring, so with the advice of Gandalf, a powerful wizard, he passes the Ring on to his cousin Frodo and leaves for a “vacation.”

Years pass and Gandalf returns, and he discovers that the magic ring is no ordinary magic ring and that it is the ring of a powerful dark lord named Sauron. Gandalf tells Frodo that if the Ring were to fall into the hands of Sauron, he would conquer the world, and therefore it must be destroyed.

Gandalf sends Frodo, escorted by his friends Sam, Merry, and Pippin, to escort the Ring to Riverdale, an elven stronghold, where the fate of the Ring would be decided. Along the way, they face many threats, like the Ringwraiths, Sauron’s powerful servants. At Riverdale, it is decided that the Ring could only be destroyed in Mount Doom, a volcano near Sauron’s fortress where the Ring was forged in.

Frodo volunteers to travel to Mount Doom, and he is escorted by his friends, Gandalf, and some of the greatest heroes of Middle-Earth (the fictional world the story takes place in). The rest of the book is about the fellowship’s travels and adventures, and how they deal with problems and threats that they face on their journey to Mount Doom.

Ultimately, The Fellowship of the Ring is a good book, although it is quite long. I would recommend it to readers who love really long stories filled with action and adventure, like Greek epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey.

-Josh N. 

The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Redwall by Brian Jacques

Redwall is a series of 22 fantasy novels written by the late Brian Jacques.  The stories take place around a castle named Redwall Abbey in a land called Mossflower during a medieval period.  The main characters are animals with human-like abilities.  Most of the characters are woodland creatures that can talk and walk on their hind legs.  The good characters include mice, squirrels, otters, moles, and badgers.  The villains include rats, weasels, stoats, foxes and ferrets.  The books contain many epic adventures and are very enjoyable to read.

I have noticed a predictable pattern throughout the series.  Each book usually begins by introducing the main characters, including the main villain.  Then conflict arises between the good and bad characters.  Usually, the good characters are defending Redwall Abbey against their enemies.  Sometimes the heroes embark on long journeys or perilous adventures to defeat the villains.  By the end of each book, the bad creatures are defeated.  Though the books may seem repetitive and predictable, they are filled with surprising plot twists and many colorful personalities.

The first novel written in the series is simply titled Redwall.  The hero of the story is a small mouse named Matthias.  In this book, Matthias defends Redwall Abbey against the evil rat, Cluny the Scourge.  Matthias overcomes many challenges to save the abbey.  At one point he defeats the dreaded snake, Asmodeus, and obtains a legendary sword with which he fights against Cluny and his army.  This book is filled with action and suspense.

Another enjoyable novel in the series is Mossflower.  This book describes events that took place before the events of Redwall.  We learn about the history of Redwall Abbey.  A traveling mouse named Martin comes across a large and spacious castle inhabited by evil vermin led by tyrannical wildcats.  Martin finds a group of woodlanders who wish to overtake the giant castle and remove the dictators.  After finally succeeding in their mission and destroying the castle, they decide to build an abbey in its place.  The abbey is named Redwall because it was built with red sandstone from a distant quarry.  Redwall Abbey becomes the home of many good woodland creatures throughout the series. 

Perhaps my favorite book in the series is The Bellmaker.  This book involves a squirrel king named Gael who lives at Castle Floret.  The king is forced to flee from his home because of an evil foxwolf named Urgan Nagru.  As the story develops, heroic characters from Redwall come to the rescue to put an end to Urgan Nagru and his army once and for all.  This book may be my favorite in the series because of the gripping plot and fascinating character development.

The Redwall series is filled with adventure, action, and humor.  I enjoy reading each book because the stories are all woven together.  The characters come to life as we read about their exciting adventures from book to book.  These books may be written for young readers but I would highly recommend them to anyone.

-Oliver H. 

Brian Jacques’ Redwall series is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Book Without Words by Avi

The Book Without Words by Avi is a strange, chaotic novella set in a medieval and gothic time period in an alternate universe.

An eccentric old man named Thorston has devoted his entire life to look for the two greatest secrets of life- the making of gold and immortality. Seconds away from a breakthrough, he keels over, dead. His servant, Sybil, and talking pet raven, Odo, decide that their only hope is to discover the two secrets and build a better life for themselves.

The ultimate theme of this book plays on human nature itself, as the two secrets themselves represent man’s greatest flaws- greed and the desire for immortality. 

This morally-charged storyline coupled with Avi’s odd, emotionless, and almost creepy narrating style makes for an intriguingly gruesome novella that turns the happy-go-lucky magic of youth into something curiously corrupted and cruel.

-Vaidehi B.

The Book Without Words by Avi is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

This novel tells of Jake Epping, a recently divorced teacher at his local high school, teaching some GED classes for extra money. One of his GED students, the high school’s janitor, Harry Dunning, writes a tear-jerking essay for his final, about how his family was killed by his alcoholic father and how he was crippled for life. 

A few years later, when Jake visits his friend, Al, at Al’s Diner, Al shows Jake a time portal in the pantry of his diner; Al, seems to have aged years within a day, explains that he had used the portal to travel back in time, and had lived years in the past before he developed cancer and had to return. 

The few rules to the portal are as follows:

  • Each trip to the past is a complete reset to September 9, 1958. Whenever you enter the portal, you’re undoing whatever you did the last trip.
  • Each time coming back from the past through the portal, no matter how long you stay, you come back two minutes after you left.
  • The past can be changed, impacting the future, but the past is also obdurate; it tries it’s very hardest to stop from being changed.

After Al shows Jake the ropes, he sends Jake on the mission that he had been unable to complete last time. From what Al has observed, everything bad in the world can be traced back to John F. Kennedy’s assassination; if Jake could stop the assassination, the world would likely be a better place. And if it wasn’t, he could always go back and reset it. 

Jake agrees to the plan, but adds a few elements of his own; he would drop by the Dunning household, and stop Frank Dunning from murdering Harry’s family. Then, he would wait until 1963, watching and monitoring the world around him, and stop Kennedy’s assassination.

The title of this novel definitely was the eye-catcher on the library bookshelf for me, in addition to its impressive size. The reality of life that’s starkly shown in this novel, contrasting the preposterous situation Jake enters into, is why I enjoyed it so much. He constantly feels the danger of discovery, injecting an underlying urgency into the story, but I also felt a wrenching desire for him to settle down when he finds a wonderful woman in a content little town where he could live a happy life in the past. 

There’s a sense of heroism to the story as well; armed with the knowledge of the future, Jake strives to do his best for the greater good of the world. However, the past is “obdurate;” he runs into so many obstacles when he tries to change things, ultimately causing more harm than good. It’s an excellent example of how good intentions do not necessarily bring good results.

-Adelle W.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

The Ranger’s Apprentice series revolves around a boy named Will, an orphan taken in as a castle ward at Redmont fief, one of the fifty fiefs in Araluen. This first book follows his acceptance into the respected (and feared) Ranger Corps, the highly capable unseen protectors of the kingdom. As an orphan with no last name or memory of who his parents were, Will is set, along with his fellow wards, to be chosen by one of the Craftmasters and trained in service of the kingdom. 

However, Will’s skill set doesn’t fit any of the apprenticeships that his peers are chosen for. After Will climbs the tower up to the Baron’s office to try and find out his fate and the mysterious Ranger Halt catches him, he’s told that he would be most suitable for Ranger training. He learns to use the Ranger’s choice weapons, the bow, a throwing knife, and the specially made saxe knife, and learns the art of unseen movement, the key to a Ranger’s job in protecting his assigned fief. 

Meanwhile, Morgarath, the lord of the Mountains of Rain and Night, exiled from Araluen, plots his revenge against the kingdom. Having been planning for 15 years, he begins to mobilize his army of monstrous Wargals and unleashes the terrifying Kalkara, huge beasts of war that can freeze a man with their eyes. When word of this gets to Araluen, the Ranger Corps are put on high alert. Will, Halt, and another Ranger, Gilan, set off to track and kill the Kalkara. The book ends with Araluen mobilizing for war with Morgarath.

In addition to Will’s journey towards becoming a Ranger, I was particularly taken with his interaction with Horace, one of the castle wards and one of Will’s long-time bullies. Horace is accepted to Battleschool, training to be a knight; however, since he was alienated as an orphan, many of the other knight apprentices begin to bully him, causing Horace, in turn, to lash out at Will. After Halt gets rid of the Battleschool bullies, the two boys reconcile their differences and become fast friends; they see past their conflict and find a true friend in each other. I learned something crucial from this: that hostility is often rooted in something that can be solved with listening and understanding.

I love this series because it can be enjoyed immensely by anyone of any age; Flanagan transformed stories composed for his son into 12 artfully written novels of heroism, humor, and friendship. I highly recommend this book and this series to anyone in need of a fun and satisfying read.

-Adelle W.

The Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again is a fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien. The book is set in a world filled with elves, dwarves, orcs, magic, and all sorts of strange creatures, known as Middle-Earth. In The Hobbit, a company of dwarves, along with a wizard, attempt to reclaim their lost kingdom and gold, which have been taken by a dragon.

The book’s protagonist is a hobbit, a race similar to humans, but shorter than dwarves, named Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo lives a quiet, ordinary life inside his hobbit-hole, until one day a mysterious wizard named Gandalf the Grey and a company of thirteen dwarves show up at his doorstep, asking him to join their quest to reclaim their gold and slay the ferocious dragon Smaug. Bilbo initially refuses, but eventually gives in to temptation, and soon he, the dwarves, and wizard are thrown into an action-filled adventure.

The Hobbit mainly shows Bilbo’s growth and transformation into a hero as the dwarves are traveling towards their goal. Against obstacle after obstacle, Bilbo begins to prove his usefulness and worth, as he saves the dwarves from countless threats, from elven kings to deadly spiders.

The Hobbit is a great book that can be enjoyed by all ages. It is filled with adventure and there is action at every turn. Overall, The Hobbit is a classic novel that should be read by everyone.

-Josh N. 

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library