Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
Publisher: Alfred A. Knope (imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
Publication Date: 1980
Lexile Level: 750
I decided to revisit another classic from my childhood—one of Roald Dahl’s less famous works, The Twits. I think my sister had a copy and I remember reading it several times as a child. A couple of details had stuck in my brain over the years, namely Mr. Twit with food in his beard and the bird pie. Since it’s not a Dahl work that gets talked about as much, I thought I’d take another look at it.
Mr and Mrs. Twit are truly disgusting people. They are ugly and mean and hateful, even (or perhaps especially) to each other. The first part of the story is about them pranking each other…which while mean-spirited, is pretty funny. We know that these two are in their 60s. So imagine your grandparents hiding worms in spaghetti and frogs in the bed. Or one tricking the other into thinking they’re shrinking. It’s just hilarious. I kept thinking of the grandparents from The Waltons (though at least they actually loved each other). That same curmudgeon attitude that hides some amount of affection. Granted, with the Twits, I wonder how much they still love each other and how much of it is just passive aggressive.
As the story moves along, we learn how the Twits capture birds for their weekly bird pie and keep a family of monkeys in a cage. Eventually the monkeys team up with a Roly-Poly bird and shenanigans ensue. The Twits get what they deserve, and the monkeys go free.
Like many of Dahl’s works, the message is one of karmic payback. Mean, ugly people are punished, and the innocent are rewarded. My favorite part is how Dahl talks about true beauty—that no matter what your physical features, if you think good thoughts, you will “always look lovely.” Whereas if you think ugly thoughts, they will twist your appearance and the ugliness will grow upon you (as in the case of Mrs. Twit). It’s a short section but one of the best lessons I’ve ever read in a children’s book. It doesn’t beat the child over the head with it, but it also tells them that ultimately, physical features don’t matter as much as what’s on the inside.
This is a short novel that would be great as a bedtime or classroom read-aloud. It could be gotten through in a few days, and the wordplay (another Dahl trademark) makes it a lot of fun to read out loud. It can also serve as a great conversation starter as to why we should try being nicer to people.
My edition also has a short interview with Roald Dahl in the back. He talks about his writing process, and I would encourage aspiring writers to look it up. It can be found here, which also has it in audio format. His advice is solid, and some that I’m trying to implement into my own writing process.
All in all, this is a highly recommended novel. It’s a quick read, even for kids, with a great message. Any kid who likes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda is sure to enjoy it.