Matilda is a heroine for our time, thanks to Quentin Blake | Rebecca Nicholson

New drawings by the great artist bring the wonderful outsider right up to date

To mark the 30th anniversary of Matilda Wormwood being brought to life, Quentin Blake released several new drawings, as first revealed in the Observer, that suggested where she might be today, at the ripe old age of 36 or so. He drew her as poet laureate, wowing audiences with The Trunchbull Saga; as the director of the International Astrophysics Institute; as CEO of the British Library (which gets my vote); as an explorer travelling through Patagonia; and as a special effects artist, creating movie magic with her powers of telekinesis, which is, in a way, the kind of thing that puts hard-working, non-telekinesis-types out of business and therefore may warrant strike action, though let’s not quibble over imaginary labour conditions.

Recently, I sat down with my three-year-old niece to watch the 1996 film version. Ordinarily, my niece fizzes to bursting like a shaken-up bottle of pop, but she was mesmerised into rare stillness by the story that unfolded in front of her. Her mum says she now asks to watch it almost every day.

To see it through the eyes of a small child was a reminder of just how life-changing a story such as Matilda can be. It certainly was for me, when I read it, in the year that it came out, and reread it again and again in the years that followed.

When books for children are at their very best, they give power to those who feel different and strength to those who might, for reasons they do not know yet, feel like outsiders. Matilda, with her awful, neglectful parents, and Miss Honey, bullied and robbed by her aunt, provided solace, because they knew that in spite of the hardships they faced, they weren’t the ones to blame. As a template, it’s genuinely hard to fault; if Harry Potter had been loved by his living parents and had a nice bedroom with an Xbox and some throw cushions, instead of his hovel under the stairs, JK Rowling might have sold a few billion copies fewer.

It may well be a generational thing – I came to Harry Potter too late – but for me, Matilda will always be the great outsider, the ultimate rebel girl. Roald Dahl’s delightfully nasty streak was exercised through her when, for all of her sweetness, she took revenge on her parents, with glue and bleach and, ultimately, their arrest.

She was nice, until she realised she no longer had to be entirely nice. If that isn’t a lesson to revisit this week, for readers of all ages, then I don’t know what is.

Amy Schumer, a comedian who stands up for her principles

Amy Schumer after being arrested during a protest against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.
Amy Schumer after being arrested during a protest against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The comedian Amy Schumer was among more than 300 people arrested at the US Capitol in Washington on Thursday, as they took part in a seemingly Sisyphean peaceful protest against the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh.

When a celebrity is carted off on camera, it makes news in a way that your run-of-the-mill protest arrest never does, but when the aim is to make as much furious, indignant and righteous noise as possible, it can only help that famous faces are there. One of the many clips to emerge from the day showed an officer asking Schumer: “Do you want to get arrested?” “Yes,” she replied, firmly, having already given a blistering speech.

Schumer has had a varied few years in Hollywood. After an early career in standup, her sketch show, Inside Amy Schumer, provided a regular dose of satire slanted towards a vicious skewering of double standards. It could be hilarious, as when she dedicated an episode to a spoof of 12 Angry Men, debating whether she was attractive enough to be on TV.

But it was at its best when it was shocking, as it was in the parody of Friday Night Lights, which turned into a bleak dig at rape apologists, or the military videogame in which a female avatar is pressured not to report a sexual assault.

The films she has made since are a strangely diluted half-glance at these insights, as if the writers/directors sort of got the message she was trying to put across, but thought they could make it more fun by slathering it in glitter. Schumer, though, seemed at home in Washington and in being angry again.

Rachel Riley’s Countdown to a class put-down

Rachel Riley: how to put an end to Twitter tomfoolery.
Rachel Riley: how to put an end to Twitter tomfoolery. Photograph: AOB/LNG/Supplied by WENN

This Morning celebrated its 30th birthday with a week of specials and stunts, including the perhaps questionable decision to revive the floating weather map, a slot made famous by a man now in prison for multiple child abuse convictions. Naturally, This Morning favourite Alison Hammond was tasked with letting Britain know if it was going to rain, only in making the jump to Northern Ireland, she managed to knock a topless sailor into the water. There is, surely, a Brexit analogy here, but I was too busy laughing to make the leap. If Hammond herself had been in the same state, the sailor might have stayed dry.

Countdown’s Rachel Riley, however, offered up the best hot take on the week’s news when a Twitter user tried to rope her into the debate over Radio 2’s breakfast host, hypothesising that Sara Cox was in fact better than the newly appointed Zoë Ball.

He phrased it as a mathematical equation, then mentioned Riley, to see if she would bite. She did reply, but with a succinct “Don’t be a dick, Mike”. May this live on as the ultimate riposte to any Twitter tomfoolery, regardless of whether the perpetrator is called Mike.

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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