Welcome to week 3 of our Make Stories Like Roald Dahl summer challenge. This week we will unearth Roald Dahl’s inspiration for unusual animal characters.
Bunny rabbits? Squirrels? Hedgehogs? When Roald Dahl wrote his first book for children, James and the Giant Peach, he knew he wanted animals of some kind in the story. But he didn’t want these ‘old favourites’. He wanted new creatures that hadn’t been seen in children’s books before, so he turned to insects.
Choosing the right minibeasts for the job wasn’t easy. Roald Dahl’s library cards show he borrowed lots of books from the library to research insects of all kinds. He was fascinated by the insects in his garden and made pages of detailed notes on earthworms and spiders, so he could help us to picture them exactly.
Above: Roald Dahl's notes on the earthworm
As well as grasshoppers and centipedes, Roald Dahl examined pond skaters, woodlice and woolly aphids. James almost went on an adventure with an earwig and a hairy-green caterpillar! In the end, Roald Dahl added a silkworm, ladybird and glow-worm to James’s insect friends.
Next came the challenge of making these weird, wonderful (and sometimes slightly slimy) minibeasts, like the earthworm, into loveable and interesting characters. To do this, Roald Dahl gave them all individual personalities and special skills. The Old-Green-Grasshopper plays beautiful music using his leg and wing. Miss Spider spins strong ropes to rescue the giant peach from the sea. And Centipede uses his knowledge of footwear to become a shoe salesman – after all, he spends long enough taking off and putting on his 42 boots!
Now it's time to create your own insect characters.
1. Go on a bug hunt in your garden! Look closely at the minibeasts you find and make notes or drawings of what they are like. Or you could help your kids look at pictures of bugs in books or online.
2. Turn a minibeast into a character. Give it a name, add an outfit and find it a super skill. What adventures will your insect have?
You should now have a creature character, ready for an adventure. Just water it with a little imagination to make it grow! Write it, draw it, act it out or just tell us about it using #MakeStoriesLikeRoaldDahl.
With Michael, from the Museum's Front of House team.