I am looking for a book that I read when I was very young, probably early elementary school in the 90s. I recall it had something to do with pheasant hunting. I think there was an emergency, or the adult got lost, and a young boy mustered the courage to figure out how to drive a manual transmission through the woods. It narrated the manual transmission learning attempt in detail, so the reader listens to him worry about having it in 1st gear too long and burning up the engine, so he'd better be brave and get it into second gear (and so on). Just trying to figure out what the rest of the story was about because I remember it fondly.

1 Answer 1


That's Roald Dahl's Danny, the Champion of the World.

The plot centres on Danny, a young English boy, and his father, William. They live in a Gypsy caravan, fix cars for a living in their mechanic shop and partake in poaching pheasants.

He's nine years old, and has to drive a car to find his father in the woods, so that would fit with the plot. As the book is set in England, it would certainly be a manual transmission car. It was published in 1975 and is a well-known classic, so you reading it at school in the 90s makes sense.

Here's an excerpt kindly found online by @Pete; you can read the relevant section on ESL-Bits.

I looked again at the clock. He had left the caravan at six, which meant he had been gone over eight hours! It took me two seconds to decide what I should do. Very quickly I stripped off my pyjamas and put on my shirt and my jeans. Perhaps the keepers had shot him up so badly he couldn’t walk. I pulled my sweater over my head. It was neither navy-blue nor black. It was a sort of pale brown. It would have to do. Perhaps he was lying in the wood bleeding to death.
At that point a wild and marvellous idea came to me. Why shouldn’t I go in the Baby Austin? I really did know how to drive. My father had always allowed me to move the cars around when they came in for repair. He let me drive them into the workshop and back them out again afterwards. And sometimes I drove one of them slowly around the pumps in first gear. I loved doing it. And I would get there much much quicker if I went by car. This was an emergency. If he was wounded and bleeding badly, then every minute counted.
The motor was beginning to rattle and shake. I was still in first gear. It was vital to change up into second otherwise the engine would get too hot. I knew how the change was done but I had never actually tried doing it. Around the filling-station I had always stayed in first gear. Well, here goes. I eased my foot off the accelerator. I pressed the clutch down and held it there. I found the gear-lever and pulled it straight back, from first into second. I released the clutch and pressed on the accelerator. The little car leaped forward as though it had been stung. We were in second gear...
I began to worry about the motor. I knew very well it would be certain to overheat if I drove for long in either first or second gear. I was in second. I must now change up into third. I took a deep breath and grasped the gear-lever again. Foot off the accelerator. Clutch in. Gear-lever up and across and up again. Clutch out. I had done it!

  • A truly excellent YA story teller! If you enjoy that book, try some of his others as well. He wrote "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", the basis for the movie "Willy Wonka" as well as "The Witches" and "James and the Giant Peach". Jul 7 at 19:01
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    @NotEntirelySerious. He also wrote the screenplay for Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, based on the novel by Ian Fleming. (Yes, the James Bond Ian Fleming.)
    – TRiG
    Jul 7 at 22:41

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