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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Children’s Novels (#18)

#18 Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#4)(#4) (#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#8) (#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#10) – 154 points

My sister and I took this book on a camping trap when we were nine and ten. She started reading it first, and was laughing so hard that I ended up picking it up every time she unwisely put the book down to do unnecessary things such as eat. By the end of the camping trip the paperback cover had been ripped in half after an epic fight over whose turn it was to read. – Ann Carpenter, Youth Services Librarian, Brooks Free Library

I identified with Matilda, being two years younger and therefore much smaller than my classmates, and bored (though I had a MUCH better family!). Reading was my favorite escape and the library my favorite place to go. Now if only I could have developed telekinesis. – Abigail Goben

As a youth, I gobbled up Roald Dahl books like the eponymous heroine of this lively tome. I loved them all—even the comparably yawn-inducing “Boy.” Overall, though, I think Matilda has more heart than most of Dahl’s books and that’s why I voted it #1. – Katherine Harrison, Editorial Assistant, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers

I’m not sure why this is my very favorite Dahl. I think because I always thought that if I was just a little bit smarter, I, too, would be able to move things with my excess brain power. Also I wanted to be Miss Honey when I grew up. But Miss Honey at the END of the book…. – A.M. Weir (Amy’s Library of ROCK)

I guess I credit Roald Dahl with giving my perpetually sunny, slightly goody-goody daughter a dark, wicked sense of humor. – Jody Sitts, Children’s Librarian, Field Library, Peekskill, NY

Watch out for the quiet ones.

It may surprise some to see Matilda standing higher on this list than poor modest Charlie Bucket. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that while most (not all) Dahl books starred boys of one stripe or another (George, James, Charlie, etc.) Matilda was the only gal to get her name front and center in the title. This is the closest Dahl ever got to a feminist vision, and little girls everywhere love them their Matilda. She was a kind of proto-Harry Potter complete with a nasty family and secret magical abilities. For a certain generation, Matilda was our Harry.

The plot description from the book reads, " ‘The Trunchbull’ is no match for Matilda!  Who put superglue in Dad’s hat?  Was it really a ghost that made Mom tear out of the house?  Matilda is a genius with idiot parents – and she’s having a great time driving them crazy.  But at school things are different.  At school there’s Miss Trunchbull, two hundred menacing pounds of kid-hating headmistress.  Get rid of the Trunchbull and Matilda would be a hero.  But that would take a superhuman genius, wouldn’t it?"

This could be all heresay and conjecture, but at a recent ALA event I spoke with an editor who told me that Dahl’s original vision for Matilda was quite the opposite of the final product. By all accounts, Dahl wanted Matilda to be a nasty little girl, somewhat in the same vein of Belloc’s Matilda Who Told Lies and Was Burned to Death.  Revision after revision turned her instead into the sweet little thing we all know and love today.  He retained her tendency towards revenge, however, and I think that’s another reason the book works as well as it does.  In the end Matilda bore some similarities to James and the Giant Peach, though Dahl had the guts to go and make the actual parents in this book the bores, and not just mere aunties.

  • In the book Revolting Recipes, there is a recipe for the chocolate cake The Trunchbull makes poor little Bogtrotter devour.  That also happens to be my favorite scene, you know.

Publishers Weekly said of it, "Adults may cringe at Dahl’s excesses in describing the cruel Miss Trunchbull, as well as his reliance on overextended characterization at the expense of plot development. Children, however, with their keenly developed sense of justice, will relish the absolutes of stupidity, greed, evil and might versus intelligence, courage and goodness."

Said School Library Journal, "This may not be a teacher’s or principal’s first choice as a classroom read-aloud, but children will be waiting in line to read it."

This version of Matilda is by one Chrystal Chan.  She’s a mere $250, should you wish to take her home with you.  Found on Beyond the Page.

Considering how relatively recently it was published, there aren’t all that many covers.  The usual plays on Quentin Blake, of course.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the Ukraine has a thriving and superior illustrator community out there.  Here’s their Matilda.

I would very much like to see the Matilda movie, actually.  Casting-wise it’s rather inspired.  I know that there have been objections to the degree to which Matilda uses her powers in the film, but I’d still like to give it a go. Can anyone vouch for / deplore it?  Any movie with Rusted Root in the soundtrack can’t be all bad, after all.

Where are you today, Mara Wilson?

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Monica Edinger says

    Count me in as a fan of the Matilda movie. (I think I may have it at school. Will check.)

  2. If you can, try to hunt down the older (1998 i think) european dvd of Matlida which preserves the 2:35:1 AR. DeVito shot the film in Super35 and it’s a real crime that the american releases are all p&s. Hopefully the eventual bluray will correct the unfortunate error.

    And yes the cake scene in the film is masterfully done.
    For me this literary adaptation ranks second only to Chuck Jones’ Cricket in Time Square.

    Being generally pessimistic in nature, my predictions didn’t have Matilda making the list, now what gets eliminated to give it a spot? Doc Doolite, Winn-Dixie, or Little Prince I’d say.

  3. Love the book and the movie. Definitely worth seeing. Mara Wilson starred in a dreadful Thomas the tank Engine feature film a few years after Matilda, which I unfortunately watched dozens of times during my son’s train phase. I think she has since left the movie biz.

  4. rockinlibrarian says

    OH MY GOSH NO KIDDING?! Hah! And I just said yesterday there was no chance!

    I enjoyed the movie. The biggest difference I noticed was the American setting, but that’s almost expected anymore. And I’m impressed that you’re a Rusted Root fan, as they’re considered a local band ’round these parts.

    (Eric, personally I’d dump Little Prince. What kids actually read that anymore? That’s like one of those adult books masquerading as a kids book. Or that could be just me).

  5. Laurie (Six Boxes of Books) says

    I see I’m not the only one who assumed Matilda (which I voted for) was off the list, after seeing Charlie at #19. Nice that we were wrong. I wrote about The Wolves of Willoughby Chase that Miss Slighcarp is the best villainess of all time; well, Miss Trunchbull is right up there too. The chokey! And I love the bit where Matilda criticizes Mr. C. S. Lewis and Mr. Tolkien because they do not have many funny bits in their books. “Children are not so serious as grown-ups and they love to laugh.”

  6. Melissa (Book Nut) says

    I love the Matilda movie; it’s one of the few that I think take the book and is faithful to it, while also being a good movie. You’re right about girls loving their Matilda: mine do!

  7. Nah, Rockinlibrarian, it’s not just you. I liked Little Prince when I read it in high school French at the age of 16 or so, but it’s not a kids’ book at all. I really do not understand the appeal of the recent pop-up edition.

  8. klonghall says

    I LOVE the chocolate cake scene! It was great in the movie, too. Hooray for Matilda! I am surprised and thrilled at her spot on this list. I am not a huge fan of many of the classics that have already made the list (go ahead a mock me, but I can barely stomach things like Little Women…I thought it was so boring when I read it as a kid…)and which I expect to be in the top 20, so I LOVE to see more contemporary (and FUNNY) books making it close to the top. Classics have their place, sure, but they certainly weren’t the books that gave me the passion for children’s books that I have now. I think I associate too many of them with school assignments that were forced upon me. But, Matilda! That’s a book that can get kids really excited about reading. I wish more teachers-esp. middle and high school teachers would choose their books based on that more often than forcing kids into classics. Shannon Hale has written about that several times in her blog. She has some great thoughts on that subject.

  9. Rusted Root is in my top ten (track’s from ‘When I Woke’ have popped up in several films!). I also enjoyed the movie. It captures the spirit of the book, not just the circumstances.

  10. I greatly enjoyed the Matilda movie. It’s not a clone of the book, but it’s true to the spirit, and quite satisfying. Go watch it, do!

  11. I once left my university computer lab to run down to the nearest bookstore so that I could look up the quote from Matilda about thinking that there should be more funny books, because it was the best and only way I could think of to conclude the paper I was writing on Charles Dickens. And also I’m pretty sure that Ms. Honey is at least half of my ultimate role model as a librarian (the other might be Jack Black in School of Rock) My favorite Dahl by far.

  12. RM1(SS) (ret) says

    As I’ve mentioned before, Chocolate Factory is the only one of Dahl’s books I’ve read (though thinking back, there’s a slight possibility that I read Great Glass Elevator, too), so I’m really amazed to see that five of his books are on the list!

  13. Genevieve says

    My son is one of the Matilda fans who thought it definitely should be there and figured it had no chance after Charlie yesterday – very pleased. Since this came out when I was in college, I hadn’t read it (or even heard of it) until a few years ago. I don’t love it the way I loved Charlie and James as a kid, but if I’d read it as a kid, I might have.

    I’ll say Dr. Doolittle is out — while I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it in this poll, I would be very surprised to see it in the top 17. Certainly I could be wrong, but I didn’t think it had the kind of staying power of most of these. I’d be interested to hear from any librarians who have a sense of whether Dr. Doolittle gets checked out much.

    Oh, and I like Rusted Root very much (“Send Me On My Way” is on my iPod).

  14. Connie Rockman says

    Dahl has never been a favorite of mine, perhaps because his children’s books started to appear when I was in late-teens, early-20s limbo, so I never encountered him as a kid … You have all convinced me to give Matilda a try, though. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see where these titles would fall if everyone who voted agreed to vote again after we had read everything on the list ;-}

    And, Eric, I’ll add a voice to dropping Little Prince – it’s a philosophical treatise (and a delightful one), but hardly a children’s book … although it does fulfill one criteria for a ‘classic’ children’s book: people feel they Have To write sequels to it.

  15. I actually hadn’t read MATILDA before I saw the movie. I loved the movie, so then read the book, which my son had already told me was wonderful.

    The book didn’t come out at the right time for me to catch it — the year my son was born. But I’m glad it made the top twenty. I had a feeling it would do better than CHARLIE. Librarians can’t help loving MATILDA, with her voracious appetite for books!

  16. Connie Rockman says

    Oh, and that quote about Mr. C.S. Lewis and Mr. Tolkien – so true, but what a shame that Matilda (and her creator) apparently didn’t know the work of Mr. Lloyd Alexander, who DID understand that children’s books need a large dose of humor!

  17. This proves my students are the brightest in the land, or at least on par with Fuse #8 readers. As I mentioned yesterday Matilda is their first Dahl of choice.

    I would like to see, by show of hands, anyone who put more than one Dahl on their list. To make the countdown five times there must have been some double love, mustn’t there?

    Eric, take off Little Prince, I agree with others who’ve said it is not a children’s book. I think you’re wistful in Doolittle as well.

    I have a list of 16 that I’m sure are shoe-ins with 6 waiting in the wings as possibilities, but with the appearance of Percy I’m not so sure I’m as omniscient as I wanted to believe. If a book shows up with a copyright date later than 2000 I am sunk.

  18. Insofar as I can remember (and the brain grows fuzzy on this matter) only a few people listed more than one Dahl on their lists. Which, I suppose, gives you a sense of how many folks voted on this poll.

  19. Carl in Charlotte says

    No humor in Narnia or The Hobbit? I’ve read both to my nine-year-old daughter and she laughed out in spots. No, they’re not books of humor but there are funny bits in them.

  20. David Ziegler says

    Pleasantly surprised (tho another of my hoped fors won’t make it) to see Matilda at this spot on the list. WHAT IF … Fantastic Mr. Fox made the list? Unlikely, but there is the recent movie that could have prompted votes) I also liked Danny, Champion of the World, and have enjoyed over the years reading The Gremlins, which my born-in-England grandfather bought.

    I suspect there are more surprises to come…

  21. Had I remembered to vote in the poll, MATILDA and JAMES & THE GIANT PEACH would have both made my list. Alas. *feels shame*

    Also, the Matilda movie is super. I think about it pretty much every time a giant piece of chocolate cake ends up in front of me, which is quite often.

  22. Has any kind person been typing up the title list in order, so I don’t have to keep scrolling back through the posts to remember where my picks ended up?! If so, is it accessible anywhere online?

  23. Six Boxes of Books was kind enough (and clever enough) to collect the winners thus far. You can see ’em at:

  24. She’s here, she’s HERE! I can’t believe it. Fabulous!

  25. So thrilled by Matilda. Love the movie. I consider it to be one of the best book-movie adaptations and show it to my third graders when we discuss and study them. I read the first chapter and then immediately show them the beginning, where actual phrases and dialogue are exactly the same. It doesn’t do that for the whole book, but the spirit is SO there. And the music is great. Love it.

  26. LOVE Matilda! Book and film. I actually own the movie on DVD and would be happy to set up a screening or let you borrow it (though with threat of bodily harm if you lose it, scratch it or never return it of course :-D).

  27. I fully expected Charlie place higher than Matilda…sometimes it’s good to be proven wrong.

    Count me as another vote for the film. Apart from the Americanization, it remains true to the spirit of the book and the casting is indeed inspired.

  28. lisainberlin says

    My daughter and I loved the movie and watched it many times. We also LISTENED to the fabulous Mariam Margoyles’ audio version countless times. Highly recommended!

  29. Aaron Mead says

    My daughter (8 years old) is one of those kids that loves her some Matilda. The Twits–which I haven’t seen mentioned here–is another of her Dahl favorites, along with the usual suspects (James, Charlie, etc.).

    I don’t appreciate the comment about Lewis and Tolkien though. Seems to evince a fairly narrow view of what makes books appealing to kids: must all good kids’ books be funny? My kids are currently eating up the Narnia series with no complaints about the books being “too serious.” I mean, humor is great; don’t get me wrong. And by all means, keep kids away from BORING serious books. But, it seems to me that being gripped by a good (and perhaps serious) story is pretty great for many (most?) kids too. Does Dahl–as communicated through Matilda’s dialogue–just think everyone should write like him?

  30. I totally did not see this one coming in higher than Charlie, but I enjoyed both the book and the movie. Danny Devito has great commentary on the DVD.


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