Written in 1961, James and the Giant Peach turns 50 this year. For those who haven't read it (go!), the story is a fantastic tale of justice and redemption. In true Roald Dahl fashion, it's grislier than many contemporary children's books - it opens with young orphan James, his parents having been tragically killed by an escaped rhinoceros, living in horrendous conditions under the so-called care of his beastly aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker.
The two make sport of who can torment James more thoroughly - they beat him, berate him, deny him food, and worst of all, withhold any love or affection at all. James is lonely and miserable.
One day, James accepts a magic gift from a stranger, and as a result, grows the world's largest peach. That peach, at first another way for Spiker and Sponge to deny James any joy, soon becomes the key to his happiness. James ventures inside the fruit and discovers it full of oversized insects - kindly, funny ones, with musical talent and a dislike of cruelty. They help James find a better life. The end of Aunts Spiker and Sponge is one of the most satisfying passages in literature.
The peach represents escape for James, and aside from the little boy himself, is the center of the story. And how often does a fruit get such literary glory bestowed upon it? Sure, we have the Grapes of Wrath, and the apple of knowledge and experience was pretty key in the bible... but where else does fruit have a starring role? As it turns out, children's books are a wealth of opportunities for fruit in the spotlight. Whether to encourage healthy eating in kids or just because children love bright colors, recognizable objects and food, you'll find all the berries, melon and citrus superstars you could ask for in the pages of books for wee ones.