The BFG: Book Yes, Movie No

 

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Disney has high hopes for its new movie, “The BFG,” which will open this Friday. It is a film version of a children’s book and is directed by the masterful Steven Spielberg who, the movie’s trailer suggests, has amped up the action to make the story even more exciting.

That said, I hope you will not go to the movie. In fact, I hope the movie flops.

Instead of buying a ticket to this movie, purchase a copy of the book. Read it to your five-year-old or to your eight-year-old. Or give it to any family you know with a child aged five or older.

In my experience, “The BFG” is just about the perfect book to read to children. The story provokes their vivid imaginations, and it exposes them to language that they find new and delightful. It opens their eyes to the possibility that reading can be fun.

 

The Story

In the opening chapter of “The BFG,” a little girl named Sophie is plucked from an orphanage window in the middle of the night by a giant who carries her away to a land inhabited by other giants. After they arrive at his large-scale home, he explains that he means Sophie no harm. He is, he explains, the Big Friendly Giant.

The BFG is not like the other giants, who conduct nightly raids to collect human beings (whom he calls human beans) and eat them. The BFG is outraged by the other giants’ behavior, but he is small, as giants go, and is unable to force the others to stop.

Similarly, Sophie is a small child stuck in an abusive orphanage. Together they work out a plan to improve both their situations.

A key element of the story is the BFG’s speech. He is self-taught and well-meaning, but he mangles the English language and uses made-up words that are understandable but not quite right. Children love the character while recognizing his mistakes. They are gratified to be in on the jokes.

 

Quotes in BFG-Speak

On the nature of giants:

“You is about right! Giants is all cannybully and murderful! And they does gobble up
human beans! We is in Giant Country now! Giants is everywhere around! Out there us
has the famous Bonecrunching Giant! Bonecrunching Giant crunches up two wopsey
whiffling human beans for supper every night! Noise is earbursting! Noise of crunching
bones goes crackety-crack for miles around!”

On the BFG’s frustration:

“For years and years I is sitting here on this very rock every night after night when they
is galloping away, and I is feeling so sad for all the human beans they is going to gobble
up. But I has had to get used to it. There is nothing I can do. If I wasn’t a titchy little runty
giant only twenty-four feet high then I would be stopping them. But that is absolutely out
of the window.”

On life in the orphanage:

“I hated it,” Sophie said. “The woman who ran it was called Mrs. Clonkers and if she
caught you breaking any of the rules, like getting out of bed at night or not folding up
your clothes, you got punished.”
“How is you getting punished?”
“She locked us in the dark cellar for a day and a night without anything to eat or drink.”
“The rotten old rotrasper!” cried the BFG.
“It was horrid,” Sophie said. “We used to dread it. There were rats down there. We
could hear them creeping about.”

On the BFG and Sophie’s shared circumstances:

“I is never showing myself to human beans.”
“Why ever not?”
“If I do, they will be putting me in the zoo with all the jiggyraffes and the cattypillars.”
“Nonsense,” Sophie said.
“And they will be sending you straight back to a norphanage,” the BFG went on. “Grown-up human beans is not famous for their kindnesses.”

Let me just add that when the BFG is happy he starts “whizzpopping,” or, in common English, farting. Kids love this word and the idea that the BFG is unaware that farting is considered inappropriate social behavior.

 

Reading to Children

I should not have to make the case that it is important to read to children. Kids value activities their parents share with them, and having a parent take time to read a book tells a child that books and the child are important.

Lately I have observed an unfortunate trend among parents and young children traveling together. Several months ago, on a commuter train, I saw a mother pull out a little pink computer tablet for her daughter. The child sat there watching colorful images and hearing cute child-appropriate musical sounds. The mother did nothing.

Good grief, I wanted to say to the mother. Get out a book and read to that girl! Look out the train window with her and ask her to point to the red car! Count with her how many people are standing on that street corner!

I can understand the benefit of having a backup distraction for children forced to sit still during dreary adult dinner parties or on long airplane rides. But time with your children is limited, and it ends much sooner than parents want it to do. You have to seize those moments.

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