Nearly every weekday Matilda was left alone in the house. Her brother (five years older than her) went to school. Her father went to work and her mother went out playing bingo in a town eight miles away. On the afternoon of the day when her father had refused to buy her a book, Matilda set out all by herself to the public library in the village.
When she arrived, she introduced herself to the librarian, Mrs Phelps, slightly taken aback at the arrival of such a tiny girl unaccompanied by a parent, nevertheless told her she was very welcome.
"Where are the children's books, please?" Matilda asked.
"They are over there on those lower shelves," Mrs Phelps told her.
"Would you like me to help you find a nice one with lots of pictures in it?"
"No, thank you," Matilda said. "I'm sure I can manage."
From then on, every afternoon, as soon as her mother had left for bingo, Matilda would toddle down to the library. The walk took only ten minutes and this her two hours sitting quietly
by herself in a cosy corner devouring one book after another. When she had read every single book in the place, she started
wandering round in search of something else.
Mrs Phelps, who had been watching her with fascination for the past few weeks, now got up from her desk and went over to her. "Can I help you, Matilda?" She asked.
"I'm wondering what to read next," Matilda said. "I've finished all the children's books."
"You mean you've looked the pictures?"
"Yes, but I've read the books as well."
Mrs Phelps looked down at Matilda from her great height and Matilda looked right back up at her.
"I thought some were very poor." Matilda said, "but others were lovely. I liked The Secret Garden best of all. It was full of mystery. The mystery of the room behind the closed door and the mystery of the garden behind the big wall."
Mrs Phelps was stunned. "Exactly how old are you, Matilda?" she asked.
"Four years and three months," Matilda said.
Mrs Phelps was more stunned than ever, but she had the sense not to show it. "What sort of a book would you like to read next?" she asked.
Matilda said, "I would like a really good one. I don't know any names."
Mrs Phelps looked along the shelves, taking her time. She didn't quite know what to bring out. How, she asked herself, does one choose a famous grown-up book for a four-year-old girl? Her first thought was to pick a young teenager's romance of the kind that is written for fifteen-year-old schoolgirls, but for some reason she found herself instinctively walking past that particular shelf.
"Try this," she said at last. "It is famous and very good. If it is too long for you, just let me know and I'll find something shorter and a bit easier."
''GreatExpectations," Matilda read, "by Charles Dickens. I'd love
to try it."
Within a week, Matilda had finished Great Expectations which in that edition contained four hundred and eleven pages. "I loved it," she said to Mrs Phelps. "Has Mr Dickens written any others?"
"A great number," said the astonished Mrs Phelps. "Shall I choose you another?"