When one within my circle was staring down a long holiday weekend with a flu-stricken kiddo, so began the mama mayday text chain. Asking for non princess-y movie recs, to be exact.

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Our home movie collection is weighted heavily by Pixar era Disney titles, so that’s where my mind went first. Leave it to the teacher in the group to instead suggest old school book and movie pairings, turning kid-friendly entertainment into an exercise of matching texts.

Among her throwback mentions was that Oompa Loompa infused adventure, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And throw me back it did – to the first six weeks of the 1990-91 school year in Mrs. Penuel’s 7th grade English class.

That’s where I first learned about Roald Dahl. Each year, Mrs. Penuel kicked off the new school year by reading aloud from a rotation of Dahl’s works. For our class, she chose The Witches.

Placing her tawny brown chair in front of the class, she beckoned us to sprawl out on the floor as she began to read aloud. 

Though summoning 13-year-olds to story time isn’t without its fair share of eye rolls and deep sighs, she’d hardly finished the prologue before we were settled in – and spellbound.

In this brave new world of LockerMates, frighteningly unflattering gym suits and fervent chatter about who was “going with” who, Mrs. Penuel’s daily story time was a salve from middle school drama.

For 45 minutes a day, we were in quiet community with our peers, laughing and marveling at the same fantastical tale. The very day she’d turned the last page, I raced home and begged my mother to take me to the movie version, starring Angelica Huston as the Grand High Witch.

Though that was 25 years ago, and though I’ve read many more sophisticated books since, this one still impresses me. So much so that I recently plucked down the $4 and change Amazon charges for it in paperback.

Now each night, after our I Can Read! books are done, the kiddos crawl onto the sofa, flanking me on either side, and we all settle in for the next chapter. Lately their Dad has joined in on the fun, assigning the Grand High Witch an eccentric accent that if not exactly Norwegian, is clever enough to send our five year old into bouts of unstoppable giggles.

It’s launched all manner of inquisitive bedtime conversations, as the kids ponder various plot lines with curious intensity. Heavy eyelids and stifled yawns soon follow, but not before confirming that we will read the next chapter tomorrow night, right?

For however many tomorrow nights that enthusiasm lasts, I’ll take it. And should it wane, I’ll call upon the magic of Mrs. Penuel (thank you, Mr. Dahl) to coax out their inner kids – long after they think they’re too cool to enjoy a cleverly told tale.