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Matilda is a little girl who is far too good to be true. At age five-and-a-half she's knocking off double-digit multiplication problems and blitz-reading Dickens. Even more remarkably, her classmates love her even though she's a super-nerd and the teacher's pet. But everything is not perfect in Matilda's world. For starters she has two of the most idiotic, self-centered parents who ever lived. Then there's the large, busty nightmare of a school principal, Miss ("The") Trunchbull, a former hammer-throwing champion who flings children at will and is approximately as sympathetic as a bulldozer. Fortunately for Matilda, she has the inner resources to deal with such annoyances: astonishing intelligence, saintly patience, and an innate predilection for revenge.
She warms up with some practical jokes aimed at her hapless parents, but the true test comes when she rallies in defense of her teacher, the sweet Miss Honey, against the diabolical Trunchbull. There is never any doubt that Matilda will carry the day. Even so, this wonderful story is far from predictable. Roald Dahl, while keeping the plot moving imaginatively, also has an unerring ear for emotional truth. The reader cares about Matilda because in addition to all her other gifts, she has real feelings.
Matilda is an extraordinarily gifted four-year-old whose parentsa crass, dishonest used-car dealer and a self-centered, blowsy bingo addictregard her as ``nothing more than a scab.'' Life with her beastly parents is bearable only because Matilda teaches herself to read, finds the public library, and discovers literature. Also, Matilda loves using her lively intelligence to perpetrate daring acts of revenge on her father. This pastime she further develops when she enrolls in Crunchem Hall Primary School, whose headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, is ``a fierce tyrannical monster . . . .'' 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. They also will sail happily through the contrived, implausible ending. Dahl's phenomenal popularity among children speaks for his breathless storytelling charms; his fans won't be disappointed by Matilda. Blake's droll pen-and-ink sketches extend the exaggerated humor. Ages 9-11.