To the Miss Honeys of the World: A Tribute

Reflecting on found family, Matilda, and gratitude for those who create environments of care

Sarah Stankorb


Photo: TriStar/Netflix

“This movie just breaks you,” my ten-year-old daughter said as we sat through the 2022 musical update of Matilda. It was not our first Matilda viewing. Certainly, not my first time welling up over one.

“It’s Miss Honey,” I explained, a familiar lump in my throat over what would become the title character’s favorite teacher. For me, it’s always the Miss Honeys of the world.

If you’ve been reading along these past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it was like for many kids raised in restrictive homes, faced with physical discipline, told they must yield their will or face spiritual consequences. (Obviously, for many, spiritual abuse layers in there too.) Over the years, I’ve interviewed a lot of adults who still carry that weight. I also know many who carry histories of abuse from far outside church circles.

Those old scars sometimes never heal quite right.

But if there is promise of healing, if there was a chance at hope or something better, often there was a caring adult at the right moment, a teacher or an aunt, or a Miss Honey-type figure who intervened. Sometimes it was because it was simply the right thing to do, and sometimes the intervention was merely having someone to listen. Sometimes it was because they knew the signs, because they’d walked that hard road too.

Some of you might not have grown up with the particular movie magic of Matilda (adapted from Roald Dahl’s book). In the 1996 movie version, Lonely Matilda Wormwood is a girl raised with a neglectful father and mother who occupy themselves, respectively, swindling people at a car dealership and playing semi-professional BINGO. By age four, Matilda was left alone to cook and care for herself; her one outlet became sneaking off to the library.

Matilda finally heads off to school years late — only to fall under the care of a tyrannical headmistress, Miss Trunchbull. The headmistress is a former Olympian who used to throw hammer and now throws children by the pigtails. She keeps a student-sized torture chamber, “the Chokey” available for kids who disobey.

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Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, Glamour, O, and The Atlantic (among others). @sarahstankorb