First released in 1961, Roald Dahl’s iconic James and the Giant Peach turns 50 this year, and Penguin Young Readers Group has kicked off its commemoration of this milestone with two new editions of the classic, an interactive online initiative, and a consumer “Peachstakes” contest. Illustrated by Quentin Blake, Dahl’s scrumdiddlyumptious fantasy has been published in 34 languages and has sold 12 million copies worldwide.
In March, Puffin released a new paperback edition of James that sports a 50th-anniversary logo designed by Blake, as well as the first-ever picture book version of the novel. The latter contains Dahl’s complete text and full-color illustrations by Blake, some colored by the artist for the first time for this edition. A picture book is an ideal format for this story, observes Jed Bennett, Penguin’s associate director of preschool and young readers marketing. “One of the most beautiful things about Dahl’s writing—with its wonderful, quirky language—is that it is so easily read aloud, and a picture book is a great way to highlight that,” he says.
To involve kids in James’s anniversary celebration, Penguin Young Readers Group, in conjunction with Puffin UK, last week launched a Follow That Peach venture. The Web site encourages kids to send a personalized, peach-shaped “Peach-gram” to a friend, who then sends it on to another child. The peaches can be sent virtually, or be downloaded and sent via snail mail. Kids can post photos of themselves with their peaches on the site, which also features an interactive map that enables them to track their peaches as they travel around the world.
“Our goal is for each snail-mail peach to reach at least five friends,” Bennett notes, “and for each virtual peach to reach 50—in honor of the anniversary.” According to site stats, there are currently more than 200 peaches “in transit” and more than 20,200 “peach miles” traveled.
Between now and the end of June, Dahl fans can also enter an anniversary “Peachstakes,” publicized on the publisher’s Roald Dahl Web site. Contestants are asked to explain which of the bugs James encounters on his adventures they’d most like be friends with—and why. The grand prize is a trip for two to London, where the winner will be treated to a VIP tour of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, and will visit the author’s writing hut and take a behind-the-scenes look at the Roald Dahl archives. The contest is being promoted on Penguin’s retail displays for the James picture book and for its Roald Dahl summer reading program, and via posters in schools and libraries.
A crowning moment of James’s 50th anniversary festivities will take place during the publisher’s annual “September Is Roald Dahl Month” celebration, which ties into the late author’s September 13th birthday. On September 28, Quentin Blake will hold a live Webcast, during which he will talk about working with Dahl and take questions from his online audience. Those interested in participating can register for the event here.
Praising Dahl as “the world’s greatest storyteller,” Bennett believes this celebration of James’s 50th anniversary is well deserved. “Dahl has the ability to motivate and empower young readers,” he says. “He believed that children’s books should not be daunting, but instead should be funny, magical, and exciting. With his thrilling stories, Dahl has been able to get millions of children worldwide hooked on reading.”