James and the Giant Peach


Bibliographic Information

Dahl, Roald. (1961). James and the Giant Peach. New York: Puffin Books.

ISBN 0-14-037424-8


Genre Fantasy


True friends like you for who you are and appreciate the differences that make us unique.

You must face your fears to overcome them.

There is cruelty and unfairness in the world, but there is also kindness, compassion, and true friendship.




James is orphaned in childhood when his parents are eaten by an escaped rhinoceros. James is sent to live with his cruel and abusive aunts, Spiker and Sponge. James dreams of escaping are realized one day when a strange man gives him a bag full of magic crystals with specific instructions on how to use them. James accidentally drops the crystals in the garden and extremely peculiar things begin to happen. A barren peach tree in the garden suddenly grows the largest peach in history. Finding a passage to the interior, James meets several giant insects who become his friends. He and his new friends escape in the peach, first floating in the ocean, then flying through the sky with the assistance of a flock of seagulls tethered to the peach stem. They face many dangers, from sharks to angry cloud men, before landing their peach on the top of the Empire State Building in New York City. In New York, they make a new home in Central Park, using the pit of the giant peach. James and his friends are appreciated for their gifts and loved by many. James, who was once the saddest and loneliest boy in the world now has all the friends he could ever want.


Background Information

James and the Giant Peach was written by Roald Dahl (1916-1990), acclaimed author of books for children and adults. Like many of Dahl’s stories, James involves a child protagonist struggling in a world that is sometimes cruel and senseless. Dahl also wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Twits, George’s Marvelous Medicine, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and many others. Dahl was born in Wales and lived in England. He was a fighter pilot in World War II and began writing for adults soon after the war. James and the Giant Peach was his first book for children, published in 1961.

This printing features illustrations by Lane Smith (1959 - )who has illustrated several books by Jon Scieszka, including The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and Baloney (Henry P.). Stinky is a Caldecott Honor Book. His style of illustration of these characters was used by Disney in creating the 1996 animated feature film adaptation of this story.

Dahl employs a varied and interesting vocabulary and clearly enjoys playing with language, which makes it wonderful for teaching creative writing. This book includes many synonyms for “large”, “good”, and “bad” which will encourage students to stretch their vocabularies. Terms like “ghastly hag” , “disgusting little beast”, and “fat and pulpy as a jellyfish” hook the reader’s interest. Caution: the word “ass” appears twice in the book, both times spoken by the gruff Centipede. In both cases, it’s used to mean “a foolish or stupid person”.

The book contains a lot of factual information about the creatures that are James’ friends. Reading could easily be tied in to science lessons on classification, insects, or interactions of living things. Short non-fiction books about spiders, ladybugs, centipedes, earthworms and other creatures would make an excellent extension.

James ends up in New York City and several distinctive features of the city are mentioned. A background lesson including information and pictures of the Empire State Building, Central Park, and ticker taper parades would be helpful.

Instructional Objectives

LA.A.1 Student uses the reading process effectively.

LA.A.2 Student constructs meaning from a wide range of texts.

LA.B.1 Student uses the writing process effectively.

LA.B.2 Student writes to communicate ideas and information effectively.

SC.A.1 student understands that all matter has observable, measurable properties.



James Henry Trotter is the hero of our story. He is described as the saddest, loneliest boy in the world, but ends up surrounded by friends and playmates. James is resourceful, clever, loyal, and kind.

Old Green Grasshopper is the oldest of the group. He is a musician, rubbing his back legs together to create the most beautiful music. He and Centipede frequently conflict with each other.

Miss Spider seems threatening, but is quick to point out that her kind are much more helpful than harmful. Her ability to spin her thread is frequently called into play on the journey.

Centipede is boastful, proud, crass, and rude, but like the other creatures, cares deeply for James. He is proud of his classification as a pest.

Earthworm on the other hand is proud of his usefulness to farmers and gardeners. He is helpful, but given to anxiety and hopelessness. As Spider says, “He is only happy when he is gloomy.”

Ladybug is referred to by James as “my greatest comfort since this trip began”. She is mother to four hundred children and mothers James on their journey.

Silkworm sleeps and spins silk, which is also critical at points in the story.



The story is set in an indistinct time in the near past. James home country is not identified but seems to be Great Britain. Most of the story is set in and on the Giant Peach as it flies across the Atlantic Ocean. The end of the story is set in various places in New York City, including the Empire State Building and Central Park.


Unique Language

Some of Dahl’s usage follows rules of grammar for British English, so students may need some assistance in breaking it down. Mostly, Dahl’s language is very funny. Terms like “ghastly hag” can become class favorites. Part of Dahl’s appeal to children is that his stories always seem subtly subversive. Finding many different ways to say “ugly”, “stupid”, and “mean” can be appealing even to kids who don’t enjoy reading. Much of the vocabulary may seem at first to be out of the students’ reach, but with some support activities, James is an excellent opportunity to develop vocabulary.

Dahl also uses very colorful similes and other descriptive language, which are usually quite funny. Dahl describes Aunt Sponge by saying that she is “like a great white soggy overboiled cabbage.” He describes the not-quite-floating peach “like a delicately balanced scale that needed only the tiniest push to tip it one way or the other.”


Setting the Stage

• Read one of Dahl’s short stories first to prepare the kids for his language and style of humor.

• Discuss the movies James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which many kids have seen. Without giving away plot details for children who haven’t read them, talk about the elements that are common to these stories.

• Prepare a vocabulary wall chart before beginning reading and add to it while reading the book. As more words are added, start having the kids group them with like words. The story introduces many synonyms for good, bad, happy, sad, ugly, and mean.

• Make a K-W-L chart about the insects featured in the book. This can be followed later by a Venn diagram about real traits of each character vs. fantastic traits of each character.


Probes/Comprehension Questions

• How had James’ life changed by going to live with his Aunts? What was different from when he lived with his parents?

• How would you feel about the strange old man who appears in the garden?

• When James lost the crystals, he felt like crying. Why?

• How were the travelers saved from the sharks?

• Compare the real danger of the sharks with the imagined danger of the sharks.

• How did each of the creatures contribute to the journey?

• Why did the cloud men attack the travelers?

• Who is your favorite character? Why?

• Which character are you most like?

• Which character would you most like to be?

• List all of the dangers James and his friends faced on their journey. Next, list how they escaped from each danger.

• What would the trip have been like without Centipede? Without Ladybug? Without Grasshopper?

• James finds unexpected friends who are very different from him. Tell about a time when something like that happened to you?


Instructional Activities

• Read Aloud: Have the students take turns reading the story aloud in class. Use think aloud strategies to point out literary elements.

• Choral Reading: Take one of the many poems in the book and have groups of students learn each of the stanzas. Encourage the students to learn hand gestures and to perform with expressive voices. Perform the poems for another class.

• Know the Peach: Dahl describes the smell, feel, look, and taste of the peach. Many students have never seen an actual non-canned peach. After you have read chapters 1-18, bring in two or three peaches, a plastic knife, and some napkins. Begin by passing around the peaches and then asking the students to describe what they see. Collect the students reactions on a class brainstorm document. Repeat with the feel and smell. Next wash the peaches, cut them up and pass around the pieces for everyone to enjoy. Have the students describe the taste. Now wash and clean the pits. Pass those around and have the students describe them.

• Simile Hunt: Have the students collect similes from the story in a notebook while reading. After reading, discuss the similes to make sure the students understand them. This will help the students recognize the purpose for using similes and see the humor.

• Peach Poetry Jam: There are several poems in the book. Select a poem and use it as a jumping off point for having the students write poetry about the peach, the characters, or the journey. Wrap it up with a Peach Poetry Jam performance of the poems. Record the poems and post them on your class website.

• Reader’s Theater: Have groups of students select scenes from the book to rewrite in script form. Have them choose roles and perform the resulting scene for the class. Create an audio recording of the scenes and post it to the class website or burn it to CD.

• Movie Day: AFTER reading the book, watch the movie in class. Serve peaches for a snack. Afterwards, have groups of students complete Venn diagrams comparing separate elements of the movie and the book: plot, characters, setting. Share and discuss as a class. Talk about why the creators of the film might have made the changes they made. Write a class letter to Disney asking the questions the students generate.

• Flock of Vocab Seagulls: In the book, five hundred and two seagulls tied to the stem of the peach make it fly through the air. On a bulletin board, create a giant peach. Tie string or yarn to the stem and to bird-shaped die cuts. Add vocabulary words to this flock bulletin board throughout the reading.

• Creature Feature: Assign groups of students to research the creatures in the story, i.e. spiders, centipedes, grasshoppers. Have them report back to the class on the similarities and differences between the characters and their real world counterparts.

• Storyboards: Provide the students with blank storyboard pages. Have each student choose a scene from the book and create a storyboard for how that scene might look if he or she were making a movie based on the book. Each student will sketch the sequence of camera shots and provide a written description of the action involved in each scene.

• Overcoming Fear: A lot of the story has to do with characters overcoming their fears to do what must be done. Have students write about a time that they had to overcome a fear, such as a trip to the dentist, sleeping alone for the first time, learning to ride a bike, learning to swim, or going to school for the first time.

• Character Webs: Have the students create character webs for the main characters in the story. Each web should have the name of the character in the center connected to traits. The traits are each connected to examples from the story demonstrating each trait, for instance the character’s actions, the character’s words, what others say about the character. Have them maintain the webs throughout the reading, adding pertinent details throughout.