It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s visited here before to see another Roald Dahl book being featured. I think he is one of, if not The Best, children’s authors, and I never pass up an opportunity for a re-read. As the 13th of September was Roald Dahl day it seemed as good a time as any to revisit my absolute favourite of all of his books, The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me.
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me is a very straightforward book. It’s aimed at quite young children, and at around eighty pages of large print and copious illustrations by Quentin Blake, it only took me around half an hour to read. But what a rewarding half hour that was! It’s a simple story. Billy lives near an abandoned sweet shop, which he always dreams of owning. One day he notices the shop is being renovated, and befriends the unusual inhabitants – a giraffe, a pelican, and a monkey. They’re setting up a window cleaning business, and Billy acts as their manager. The giraffe has an extendable neck which serves as a ladder that can reach even the highest of windows, and the monkey is the cleaner who scampers up to do the hard work. The pelican uses his beak as a bucket, and hovers alongside the monkey to provide the water supply. They are busy cleaning the Duke of Hampshire’s many, many windows when they notice that a burglar is making his way through the Duchess’ jewellery collection. Pelly manages to gobble up the burglar in his beak and hold him until the police arrive, and the Duke rewards the gang by allowing the animals to live on his estate and buying the sweet shop for Billy. Rather distressingly, the burglar did shoot a hole right through Pelly’s beak, which I was gravely concerned would ruin his water-carrying career completely, but they managed to patch it up with a bicycle puncture kit or something similar, so all was well.
It’s a very ‘nice’ book. As a young child it was fun and yet simple enough for me to read and, most pleasingly, it included several little songs that I liked to make up tunes for and sing terribly while reading. It did always bother me that the poor monkey wasn’t included in the book title, it seemed rather unfair and I did feel like he was treated a bit like the poor relation of the bunch, but as mean as it sounds I just don’t think the title would have worked as well if the monkey were included. The giraffe was my favourite character because she seemed quite calm and sensible, and yet became terribly excited when her favourite food was mentioned, much like myself. The pelican worried me a bit, purely because of the beak-shooting incident, and I did think he was a bit cocky at times. Admittedly the monkey didn’t have as memorable a role to play, which is perhaps why he was omitted from the title. But it was Billy that I was most jealous of, because what child wouldn’t want to own their own sweet shop, complete with stock from Willy Wonka’s factory? The opening of the sweet shop was a great opportunity for Roald Dahl to list all kinds of weird and wonderful goodies, and it’s exactly that kind of writing which makes him such an enjoyable author for all ages. He writes the kind of books that are best appreciated when read aloud. It’s so satisfying and fun to find yourself chanting “Nishnobblers and Gumglotters and Blue Bubblers and Sherbert Slurpers and Tongue Rakers” and the like, and they’re so inventive. There were sweets to make your hair stand on end, dye your teeth green, make you spit in different colours, make you whistle, make you breathe fire… I don’t think I’ve ever come across any writer with such a vivid, exciting and childlike imagination as Roald Dahl. It’s impossible to compare him to any other children’s writer. He’s completely unique, and that’s why children (and adults) still adore him so many years down the line.