The story of Matilda created so many possibilities for the design of this book, made all the more difficult as the iconic Quentin Blake illustrations were so hard to compete with.
The majority of the story is set at Crunchem Hall, the primary school that Matilda attends. The book was set around the 1950s so I decided to make the whole cover of the binding like an old-fashioned blackboard in a school with chalk ‘writing’ on the board of significant parts within the book. The chalkboard is split across the front and back of the binding, with the front cover showing the ‘easy’ two-times table that all the children are expected to know alongside the much more difficult sums that Matilda is already able to work out in her head. Above it is sewn the sentence that Miss Honey writes to test her pupils.
On the back of the blackboard is scribed the menacing “message” that Matilda writes out in chalk with her telekinetic powers for Miss Truchbull to read. Miss Trunchbull reads this believing it is being written by Magnus, her brother and father of Miss Honey, whom she murdered. Because she sees the chalk floating and writing on its own she really does believe it to be Magnus’s ghost and she has a panic attack and faints. The children and staff revive her, but she storms out of the school the next day, scared out of her wits, she is ultimately defeated by her superstitious and ridiculous fear of ghosts. The broken chalk that Matilda used to write the words is shown on the bottom of the binding, broken in two after it fell to the floor.
Within the boards are a collection of very bright and colourful children’s drawings, hidden from view by the closing chalkboard panels. In the film version of Matilda, the classroom has colourful pictures up all over the walls and they are concealed when Miss Trunchbull enters the room. The pictures are largely based on drawings that my children did (they were 6 and 7 at the time of making this book). Some of the pictures are done in direct reference to the story and also to the Quentin Blake illustrations. Notable pieces include: the epicure that Matilda makes up about her teacher Miss Honey; ‘Chopper’ the talking parrot who belongs to Matilda’s friend Fred; and Esio Trot, which was Roald Dahl’s last novel about a tortoise (Esio Trot is tortoise spelt backwards).
For the endpapers and doublures I dedicated one side to Matilda’s father, Mr Harry Wormwood, who was a used car salesman and ran Wormwood Motors, which sold used cars for more than what they were worth (especially since they were defunct and quite broken) while also dealing in stolen car parts. He regularly fiddled with the mileage on these cars, hence on the front doublure and endpaper I illustrated an odometer (or odograph). An odometer is an instrument used for measuring the distance traveled by a vehicle, and behind a cut-out window in the endpaper I illustrated the number counter as if it had all been turned backwards.
Matilda’s mother, Mrs. Wormwood, plays bingo five times a week. When she isn’t watching television at home, she’s in the next town over at the bingo hall so I printed a stack of bingo cards on the back endpaper and doublure as a homage to her obsession with the game.
The container for the box is made as a reference to the ‘Chokey’ cupboard that Miss Trunchbull locks children in if they misbehave. The box is much longer than the book to give the appearance of it being very long and tall, with a door at the front to look like a cupboard. There are acrylic shards attached to the inner sides of the box as the real chokey had broken glass sticking out of the walls. The inner panel of the door has paper “nails” stuck to it, as the door of the chokey had nails sticking out of it so that the children were forced to stand still within the cupboard for fear of getting spiked by them or cut by the glass.