Occasionally one comes across parents who take the opposite line, who show no interest at all intheir children, and these of course are far worse than the doting ones. Mr and Mrs Wormwood weretwo such parents. They had a son called Michael and a daughter called Matilda, and the parentslooked upon Matilda in particular as nothing more than a scab. A scab is something you have to putup with until the time comes when you can pick it off and flick it away. Mr and Mrs Wormwoodlooked forward enormously to the time when they could pick their little daughter off and flick heraway, preferably into the next county or even further than that.
It is bad enough when parents treat ordinary children as though they were scabs and bunions, but itbecomes somehow a lot worse when the child in question is extraordinary, and by that I meansensitive and brilliant. Matilda was both of these things, but above all she was brilliant. Her mindwas so nimble and she was so quick to learn that her ability should have been obvious even to themost half-witted of parents. But Mr and Mrs Wormwood were both so gormless and so wrapped upin their own silly little lives that they failed to notice anything unusual about their daughter. To tellthe truth, I doubt they would have noticed had she crawled into the house with a broken leg.
Matilda’s brother Michael was a perfectly normal boy, but the sister, as I said, was something tomake your eyes pop. By the age of one and a half her speech was perfect and she knew as manywords as most grown-ups. The parents, instead of applauding her, called her a noisy chatterbox andtold her sharply that small girls should be seen and not heard.
By the time she was three, Matilda had taught herself to read by studying newspapers andmagazines that lay around the house. At the age of four, she could read fast and well and shenaturally began hankering after books. The only book in the whole of this enlightened householdwas something called Easy Cooking belonging to her mother, and when she had read this fromcover to cover and had learnt all the recipes by heart, she decided she wanted something moreinteresting.
“Daddy,” she said, “do you think you could buy me abook?”
“A book” he said. “What d’youwant a flaming book for?”
“To read, Daddy.”
“What’s wrong with the telly, for heaven’s sake? We’ve got a lovely telly with a twelve-inch screen
and now you come asking for a book! You’re getting spoiled, my girl!”