Have you ever read a book that profoundly shaped your life?
I have. The book was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When I read it for the first time in the second grade, I promised myself that I would never, ever behave like those awful, beastly children that accompanied Charlie on the tour of Willy Wonka’s factory. I would not be spoiled like the little peanut heiress Veruca Salt. I would not be sassy like the gum-chewing Violet Bureaugarde. I would not be gluttonous like the greedy Augustus Gloop. Finally, I would not watch television all the time like the vacuous Mike Teavee.
As a new reader and an eight-year-old, I loved the subversively dark humor of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was turned down for being in poor taste by several publishers in the 1960s, even though Roald Dahl was already a successful author at the time. But I also understood the book to be a cautionary moral tale. When children behave badly, bad things happen, was the lesson I took from it. I was determined not to become one of those bad kids. For most of my childhood, I think I succeeded.
A few months ago, I read the book to my six-year-old son over the course of several bed times. I thought he would enjoy the book, as I did. Perhaps he’d also appreciate that the hero of the book was the humble, good-hearted, impoverished Charlie, not the loud-mouthed brats who won the other four Golden Tickets to the factory.
My son did enjoy the book, especially the songs that the Oompa-Loompas sang each time a child met some grisly fate. The moral component seemed to be lost on him, though.
“What do you think this book was trying to say?” I asked him after we finished the last chapter.
“Always follow the rules,” my son said after some thought.
“Who was your favorite character?”
“Mike Teavee!” he said without hesitation.
“Why Mike Teavee?”
“He loves television and I love television. And I love my iPad,” my son said, leaping off of his bed and reaching for his digital device. “I want to be known as Mike iPad.”
I could barely hide my disappointment.
A few days later, when I was signing him up for a summer reading program at our library, the librarian asked what password we wanted to use on our summer reading online account (because God forbid we actually tabulate the hours on a simple sheet of paper).
“What password do you want to use?” I asked my six-year-old, who was busy trying to balance a Magic Marker between his upper lip and nose at the time.
“I want my password to be ‘TV!’” he said.
“You are killing me, man,” I replied.
So my son’s password for his online summer reading log is “TV,” and his literary hero is Mike Teavee. Somewhere, out there, Roald Dahl is shaking his head. Or maybe he’s laughing wickedly.