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'The Twits': The Novel That Changed My Life

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'The Twits' by Roald Dahl (Kevin L. Jones/KQED)

I discovered The Twits in 1983 when I was in third grade. I became immediately enraptured by the foulness and hilarity of the characters and their actions as depicted by Roald Dahl and illustrator Quentin Blake.

The horrible spite, the nasty details, the dryness of the humor and the perfection of those pictures. These aspects were all new to me in my experience of children’s books thus far. I had the buckram-bound copy checked out of our local library (the same book our dog later chewed and which we then paid for). I brought it into class eagerly as our teacher would read aloud to us every day from a chapter book. By my request, she began reading The Twits to our class. A few pages in she closed the book, explaining to me later—in private—that she couldn’t go on with it because it was just too wicked.

So how did this novel change my life? This defining moment in third grade gave me a sense of personal preference, one that is wholeheartedly authentic, despite what was considered acceptable or sanctioned by an authority figure. As a public librarian, I have carried this lesson with me throughout all of my interactions with readers of all ages.

What causes pleasure in reading, and what results from it, can be difficult to pinpoint. But we know it when it happens. We cackle. We dog-ear. We snicker. We weep. We can share that experience with others, or we can keep it to ourselves either willingly, or as authority insists.

That pleasure—oh that wicked pleasure—is all ours, and still exists. No matter what the grownups say.


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