One of my favorite films growing up was always Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. I loved the magical world inside the factory, how it was so different from the industrialized world outside even though it was the top-competing candy factory in the world (within the space of the film anyway).

It started with the amazing edible wallpaper. Did anyone else wonder what happened when you finally licked all the strawberries away? Or what happened to the flavor after you cleaned your little brother’s artwork off the wall?

Then there was the garden full of edible treats. The cup and saucer daffodils, the river of chocolate. YUMMM! A RIVER of CHOCOLATE!

Willy Wonka’s garden touched off my life-long love of sustainable environments.

An important part of that garden was Wonka’s single-handed saving of an entire race of people, the satiric Oompa Loompas, pragmatic hard-workers with an unshakeable sense of interdependence. They need the factory and the factory needs them.

In the end, of course, our small hero Charlie wins the day through a simple act of kindness, the missing quality Willy had been seeking in all of the children he invited to his factory.

Interdependence, kindness toward others, taking pride in a job well-done, these were all constant qualities in the heroes of stories told by Roald Dahl, who was born on this date in 1913 and wrote the book on which the film was based.

As an ace pilot and intelligence officer for Britain in World War II, he was no stranger to the darker side of human nature.

Even his books for children reflect this darker element of the world, as can be found in the more recent adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) and other films such as James and the Giant Peach and Matilda.

Yet, even in darkness, Dahl always finds and rewards light, defeating evil with an innocent, childlike belief in the kindness of the world at large.

Dahl’s books are most appropriate for our after school age group, and offer fun, imaginative romps through the world while imparting strong values for children to grow into compassionate adults. Win-win!

Happy Birthday Roald