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David Walliams: The New Roald Dahl?

When encouraging children to read, the usual books usually crop up from our own memories of early reading; Dr Seuss, Beatrix Potter, and who can forget Roald Dahl! But there’s a new kid on the block, and he’s being compared to the latter – and rightly so! 

David Walliams, of Little Britain fame, extended his repertoire beyond British comedy and ventured into the world of children’s literature with the release of his first book The Boy In The Dress in 2008, which was launched to critical acclaim. His books have become so popular, that they’re available in a grand total of fifty-three languages and has sold twenty-six million books worldwide.

In an interview with The Mirror, Walliam’s openly wears his love of Roald Dahl on his sleeve, describing the late author as “nearly perfect” – and it’s plain to see the one-time Children’s Laureate’s effect on the Little Britain stars own writing. 

Here, we investigate what has made David Walliams the literary superstar and 3rd best selling Childrens author that he is today, and what he has in common with the mastermind behind the likes of BFG and Fantastic Mr Fox. 

Stories That Teach Morality

Pick up any children’s book from your local library or a school, and you’ll notice that most of the stories have some kind of morality storyline hidden amongst the pages, determined to teach children a lesson; and Walliam’s books are no exception. For example, in “Mr Stink” we see a young girl named Chloe build a friendship with a homeless man – and we watch her stand by her unlikely friend in spite of objections from her relatives, and an apparent distaste towards him from the rest of society. 

This draws parallels with “The BFG” by Dahl, whereby another young girl makes an unlikely friend in the form of the Giant, whom she is at first afraid will eat her. The story then follows an “us against the world” fight for friendship, similar to what we see in “Mr Stink”. 

Children as Hilarious Heroes

One of the biggest signifiers in any Roald Dahl classic is a plucky young protagonist, usually outwitting a much older adversary – oftentimes a caregiver such as a parent or a teacher. What makes these characters so endearing is the humour in the ways they find to triumph; a trick that has not been lost on Walliams’ work.  

Crafting clever lines using his own experience as a comedian, the stories translate well for any adult reading the book to their child; much in the same way that any grown up reading a Roald Dahl might squeal with delight as the young heroes vanquish their elder foes with wit and charm. 

Witty, Unique Phrases

Roald Dahl is famous for his made-up language – something that makes him popular still today even post-humously. 

David Walliams also implements his own unique language throughout his novels. Dahl became so well known for his unique language, so well-known that some were even added to the Oxford English Dictionary! We’ll watch this space to see whether Walliam’s linguistics are added imminently too… 

Effortless Writing Style

In a world where many a children’s novel have been dominated by animals with human voices, or stories of supernatural beings, one of the things that resonates most with parents across the UK (where Walliam’s biggest audience is) is the effortless humour that laces it’s way through every sentence in each of Walliam’s books – a feat also managed by Dahl. 

In “Ratburger”, we see our young protagonist Zoe struggling in her relationship with her stepmother, who is so lazy that she gets Zoe to pick her nose for her. This kind of vulgarity carries just the right amount of childish humour the keep young readers engaged and is not uncommon amongst the pages of Dahl’s finest works either; 

Making the Impossible, Real

Both Dahl and Walliam’s succeed in taking otherwise impossible situations and making them very real in their books. For example, with Dahl we see George in “George’s Marvellous Medicine” poison his grandmother, and a boy from a poor background wind up the unlikely owner of an ENTIRE chocolate factory filled with delights that seem impossible to imagine (from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, of course)

This kind of imaginary world that exists very much within reality is prevalent in Walliam’s work too. In “Mr Stink”, Chloe takes her homeless friend to visit the Prime Minister, and in “Gangsta Granny” the hero punches his own grandmother in the face because he’s sick of being fed cabbage soup whenever he stays at her house. 

There’s no denying that there are many parallels between Roald Dahl and David Walliam’s books, that extends far beyond the fact that they used the same publisher in Quentin Blake. It’s plain to see precisely why Walliam’s books are so popular among children and teenagers alike, taking just enough inspiration from a literary master but adding his own unique perspective to keep the stories fresh and exciting. 

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