This is one of those books.
While I feel some sadness and regret that I didn't get to experience the magic and wonder of it all when I was little, I did get to experience those same things as an adult and alongside my children no less, which might be even better.
I don't know that a summary is necessary since I can't imagine anyone is unfamiliar with it (even I, who didn't read it until the ripe ol' age of 29 (and a half), still knew most of the characters and plot twists since I watched the movie adaptation (the one starring Gene Wilder) a few times as a child). But for the sake of habit and as a refresher before the rest of the review, here's a recap:
Charlie Bucket leads a poor (and hungry) life. He lives with his mother and father and four (yep, four) invalid grandparents. Money is scarce, which means that food is too. Charlie gets one lovely bar of chocolate every year for his birthday, and other than that, it's watery cabbage soup.
One day, it is announced that Willy Wonka (owner of the infamous and tightly sealed chocolate factory) has hidden five golden tickets in his candy. The lucky finders of these golden tickets will be granted a never-before-seen tour of the factory (as well as a lifetime supply of candy). Of course, Charlie would love to be one of those winners, but seeing as how he only gets one chocolate bar in an entire year, his chances are slim.
Meanwhile, four other children (gluttonous Augustus Gloop, spoiled Veruca Salt, gum-chewing addict Violet Beauregarde, and TV fanatic Mike Teavee) all find one of the tickets. Then finally, at practically the last possible moment, Charlie is miraculously able to purchase an extra two bars of chocolate and uncovers the last golden ticket (cue enthusiastic cheering from my kids).
The children (and their escorts) arrive at the factory, but one by one each succumbs to temptation until only Charlie is left and Willy Wonka reveals the real prize of the golden tickets.
And just like that, this book earned a place in our (much coveted) list of favorite readalouds. It had all the right things going for it: championing of the underdog (there are many cheer-worthy moments for Charlie), never-before-thought-of-crazy ideas (insert teleportation of a candy bar), an amusing and unusual cast of characters (Violet Beauregard anyone?), and (need I even say it?) . . . candy (I know my kids' mouths were watering in several places). In other words, this is one book that couldn't help but become an instant favorite.
Out of all the characters I've read aloud, Willy Wonka was one of the most entertaining ones to date. Everything he said carried a lilt and excitement with it while being tinged with a slightly sarcastic (and sometimes reproachful) edge. I know my kids didn't pick up on Willy Wonka's sarcasm (in fact, I don't exactly know how they perceived him--to them, he was probably just a fun-loving guy who really was deeply surprised and horrified when Augustus Gloop was sucked up the pipe), but he was cracking me up. His welcoming words to Veruca Salt had to be some of my favorites: "My dear Veruca! How do you do? What a pleasure this is! You do have an interesting name, don't you? I always thought that a veruca was a sort of wart that you got on the sole of your foot! But I must be wrong, mustn't I?" I feel like Willy Wonka's the kind of character you could write a good English paper on if given the chance.
Speaking of English papers, I'd like to read a few with opinions on the following subjects:
- Is there a villain? And if so, who is it? Are the children the villains? Is Mr. Wonka the villain? Or is human nature (with accompanying temptations) the villain?
- Does Charlie have a test? Obviously, all four of the other children are confronted with that thing they most desire (Augustus - an endless supply of sweets; Veruca - something she can't have; Violet - a radical new kind of gum; Mike - television). But what is Charlie's temptation? Or is the whole experience one big temptation because it is the polar opposite of everything his life has been comprised of thus far?
- What purpose have the grandparents? Tell me it doesn't seem strange that all four are confined (permanently) to their bed? Tell me it doesn't seem strange that Grandpa Joe is suddenly imbued with youthful health and vitality once something fun and exciting is finally happening to the Bucket family? Sounds like a big group of moochers to me.
And finally, I have to say that while I loved reading this book aloud, the Oompa Loompa's songs about did me in. They were so long! And I couldn't come up with a good tune that didn't drive me crazy with its repetitiveness! Maybe I shouldn't have tried singing them? But how could I not sing them when it was well-broadcast that they were songs? That said, I think we're going to memorize the one about television (but as a poem, not a song).
If there's one thing I've learned about reading aloud, it's that the more I do it, the more I'm committed to it and the more I absolutely love it. A few years ago, I thought I loved reading aloud, but it was nothing to how much I love it now. And this book only increased it further.