What Is the Story of Willy Wonka? By Steve Korté

What Is the Story of Willy Wonka? By Steve Korté. Penguin Workshop, 2021. 9780593224205

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3

Format: Paperback

What did you like about the book? While the title indicates that this might be an in-depth look at an enigmatic, fictional chocolate factory owner, it is primarily an introduction to the life of Willy Wonka’s creator, British author Roald Dahl.  Dahl grew up in Wales, a boy who loved stories and visiting the local candy store (despite the draconian owner).  He later attended English boarding schools where his homesickness inspired him to develop a habit of writing.  His second prep school was next to the Cadbury chocolate factory; Cadbury would occasionally send boxes of chocolates to the boys at the school, and young Roald’s imagination was piqued as he wondered how the company came up with their many flavors and varieties.  After a stint as a fighter pilot and spy in World War II, he began to pursue a career as an author, settling in New York City with his new wife, actress Patricia Neal.  Dahl would invent bedtime stories for his children, and these stories eventually led to some of his most popular books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

First published in the United States in 1964, Charlie was a big success, but Dahl had a harder time getting it published back in the United Kingdom.  It eventually did hit shelves in 1967 and became as popular as it was in the U.S.  Dahl was working on screenplays by then, and was soon approached to write one for his famous story.  The film’s producer was not impressed with Dahl’s screenplay and hired another writer to alter it, changing the title to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, making it a musical, and adding some plot changes (most notably the means of demise for Veruca Salt and the misbehavior of Charlie and Grandpa Joe). The movie was not a smash success in theaters, but it developed a significant fan following over the years on television. 

Roald Dahl followed up his famous novel with a sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which was a popular book but was never made into a movie because Dahl was unhappy with the first film.  He died in 1990, leaving us with many other beloved books, but the legacy of Charlie Bucket and Willy Wonka has lived on.  A new version of the movie was released in 2005, which took even more liberties with the plot. That was followed up by the stage musical in 2013 which included almost all new songs (other than ‘Candy Man’ and ‘Pure Imagination’).  There have also been video games and arcade rides based on the Wonka Chocolate Factory, and as of 2020, a Netflix series is in the works.

Besides the biographical portrait of Roald Dahl, the book includes a thorough summary of the plot of the book and the development of the main characters, and delves into some of the major differences between the book and the various theatrical presentations.  Fact boxes are included on such subjects as the author Ian Fleming and the actor Gene Wilder.  A bibliography is included, as is a fold-out full color timeline listing publication dates and movie releases as well as major events in the life of Roald Dahl.

Anything you did not like about the book?  I was surprised no mention was made of the controversy surrounding the original depiction of the Oompa Loompas, perceived as racist and changed by Dahl in later editions.  

To whom would you recommend this book? Roald Dahl fans could certainly use it for research purposes (perhaps as supplement to Who Was Roald Dahl?), and might find the comparisons between the original book and the movie versions interesting.  Movie fans will be somewhat disappointed.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Nonfiction – Dewey #823

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts

Date of review: September 23, 2021

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