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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

That’s Distinctive!: Roald Dahl’s “Boy: Tales of Childhood”

May 31st, 2024

Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created this series to provide a lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique items at Spencer. “That’s Distinctive!” is meant to show that the library has something for everyone regardless of interest. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, you can leave a comment at the bottom of this page. All collections, including those highlighted on the blog, are available for members of the public to explore in the Reading Room during regular hours.

This week on That’s Distinctive! I am sharing a book from Special Collections. Special Collections holds a wide array of rare books and manuscripts from throughout time. The collection “presently holds about 250,000 volumes printed since the mid-fifteenth century and about 250,000 manuscripts dating from antiquity to the present.”

The book, titled Boy: Tales of Childhood, is an autobiography written by Roald Dahl and published in 1984.  According to Wikipedia, the book “describes [Dahl’s] life from early childhood until leaving school, focusing on living conditions in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, the public school system at the time, and how his childhood experiences led him to writing children’s books as a career.” Throughout the book are photos from Dahl’s life. The book was followed up by a second autobiography titled Going Solo.

In one chapter of the book, “The Bicycle and the Sweet-shop,” Dahl remarks on his time at a private school. Though he does not remember much about the Llandaff Cathedral School, Dahl has two distinct memories from his two years there. The first memory he mentions is that of a boy riding a bicycle when he suddenly zooms by pedaling backward and not holding the handlebars. He then wishes to himself that someday he could do the same. The second memory is that of walking home from school with his friends and stopping at a candy shop any time they had the funds. One of his friends would frequently tell tales of how the sweets were made.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990) was a British author who is well known for many popular children’s books including Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda. Many of Dahl’s books have been adapted into popular films.

I chose to highlight this book because it gives a glimpse into the author’s life in ways that regular children’s stories might not. I had not heard of the book before finding it in the library. I was simply looking for books by Roald Dahl and this title popped up. Many of Dahl’s children’s books bring back memories from my own childhood, whether it was wishing I had magic powers like Matilda or hoping Wonka’s chocolate factory could be real. Interestingly enough, Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of my favorite movies as an adult. I even have it on DVD, so it is readily available at all times.

Black-and-white headshot sketch of a boy, with the book's title and author.
Collage of black-and-white photographs of a young Roald Dahl and his family.
Black-and-white photograph of an adult Roald Dahl standing and leaning against a decorated wagon.
The text of the first page of the table of contents.
The text of the first page of the chapter "Papa and Mama," accompanied by black-and-white photos.
This image has the text of the first page of the chapter "The Bicycle and the Sweet-shop," accompanied by black-and-white photos.
The front cover, inside front cover, back cover, table of contents of – and selected pages from – Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl, 1984. Call Number: C25376. Click images to enlarge.

Tiffany McIntosh
Public Services