The children's books of Roald Dahl mean a whole lot to me even as an adult. So I keenly read and peruse any new Dahl-related book or publication. In this review I am imagining myself as a child who is reading this for the first time.
This Michael Rosen biography is different from previous biographies of Dahl, for adults and for children. It does not focus on a straightforward cradle to grave narrative of his life, although there is a clear cradle-to-grave thread. Instead it arranges itself according to themes: Dahl as a boy, Dahl as a man and finally Dahl as a writer. The famed children's poet and one-time Children's Laureate writes very well and engages the reader. He paints a convincing portrait of Dahl by analysing his writings, and shows us how he became a children's author in his later years. Admittedly this biography overlooks the other facets of Dahl when it focuses on his children's writing. In a way this is good for this book because it offers a succinct account of what influenced his children's writing, and there is not much accessible lay man's literature on this all-important aspect of Dahl.
However, I notice some weaknesses in the presentation, and I don't blame Rosen at all. I wish that he had been parsimonious in presenting some of his points. By this I mean that it would have been good if he had spent less time dwelling on one point. For instance, it would have been good if he had said less about the headmaster who caned Dahl and his friends for the Great Mouse Plot. It would have been good if he had said that in those days it was the norm for teachers and headmasters to cane their naughty pupils and that Dahl in his writings made these beatings appear funny while telling his readers it was wrong. Also, I notice that he occasionally breaks through the "fourth wall" with anecdotes and asides to the reader. This can be helpful in explaining what life was like in those days and even explaining and describing sensations that would have been felt back then. I admit that these asides may be a bit disruptive and hold up the flow of the book.
This is a pretty good portrait of Dahl for a junior biography. Though this may not be an ideal read, at least Rosen writes in a sparky, engaging way that Dahl would have approved of. There are some other junior biographies of Dahl that might suit youths between the ages of 10 and 12, but this is pretty good.