The Roald Dahl Club Great Big Box. The Club Company pound;16.95, plus pamp;p.
After James Henry Trotter had been living with his aunts for three whole years, there came a morning when something rather peculiar happened to him. And this thing, which as I say was only rather peculiar, soon caused a second thing to happen which was very peculiar. And then the very peculiar thing, in its own turn, caused a really fantastically peculiar thing to occur . . ."
And as any child could probably tell you, so begins James's adventures with the giant peach. This is one of the magical odysseys which has made Roald Dahl one of the best-selling children's authors in the world, with more than 28 million books sold in the United Kingdom alone. Although Dahl died in 1990, his works remain as popular as ever and the idea behind the Roald Dahl Club Great Big Box is, according to his wife, Liccy, "to keep his very special brand of magic alive".
The Great Big Box is designed to encourage and stimulate children to read and write using the Dahl books as a catalyst. It will immediately appeal to lively imaginations, and the emphasis is so much on fun and intrigue that even reluctant readers should become converts.
The idea for a box evolved from research with children to ensure maximum appeal. It has lots of uses - it doubles up as a fact file, contains masses of bits and pieces including a quiz book, a story cassette and even a peach stone for you to grow (maybe) your own giant version. It is colourful, sturdy and durable, and members of the club receive extra pages for the fact file every three months. This particular section covers a variety of topics from information about Dahl to reviews of his stories and plenty of things to make and do.
There is also a magazine-style newsletter containing crosswords, word-searches and competitions. Children are encouraged to send in their own compositions and pictures and can even join the "global penpal network" where they can be put in touch with a child from another country of similar age and interests.
The key to its success will be in its interactive ability to continually offer children a wide range of approaches to further their creative skills and imagination. The club even has its own Web site, where members have to break the secret code with their bookmark to gain entry.
Currently obtainable by mail order only, it seems a little expensive, but you get so much more than a book, and good value for money. The fact file will grow to more than 80 pages by the end of the year's membership and other nice touches include birthday cards sent out to members. Although it's aimed at seven to 10-year-olds, it is sure to have much wider appeal - my five-year-old loved it, and the club's oldest member is 82.
The publisher, The Club Company, creates and manages other such clubs, including The Thomas the Tank Engine Club and TheBarney Club. It will bedeveloping the Roald Dahl Club concept further by launching a teacher's pack later this month. Working within national curriculum requirements, this will contain project work and photocopiable worksheets based around six of Dahl's most popular books. A global class twinning programme is also in the pipeline.
These initiatives seem to be an excellent way of increasing children's enjoyment of books while stimulating their imagination and flexing their creative skills.
As James would say: "How fascinating this all is!" And so it is.
The Roald Dahl Club, PO Box 3210, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4YX. Tel: 01935 817163; email: RoaldDahlClub.com