When I was a child at primary school in the 70s, the teacher read us ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dhal. I later went to see the original film. Like a child faced with the top tray of a new box of chocolates, I marvelled at the array of characters, the setting and not forgetting the unforgettable confectionary. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had a profound effect on me as a child. It opened my eyes to a capacity for imagination that was way beyond my experience within a city school on a notorious council estate that would nowadays be described as ‘disadvantaged’. It also opened my eyes to the notion of perspectives: the kaleidoscope of Dhal’s characters portraying the incongruent polarity between wealth and poverty, greed and generosity, indulgence and moderation. I wanted to be like the wide-eyed Charlie but I also wanted to be like his philosophical and pragmatic grandfather, and part of me wanted to be like Willy Wonka and arguably make the world a better place. It’s only when I’ve reflected on this more recently as an adult that it’s made me realise this was possibly the stimulus for me developing empathy. An empathy that was consolidated through my teenage years with a stance towards social activism.
However, it's interesting to reflect that as an eight year old being read the book by my teacher, I was totally unaware of the ensuing contraversy surrounding Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, especially with regard to the Oompa Loompas. It was only later that I learnt about the debate around the political agenda of the story. In my eyes, this makes the book even more influential as it is a reminder that we should be open to question what we read.