Poor James Henry Trotter is abandoned at the age of four when his parents are tragically killed in a grisly accident. His surname gives portent to his impending trip across the Atlantic Ocean, making him a globetrotter of sorts.
James is placed into the care of two evil relatives: Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. As their names imply, one is a lazy fat sponge that sucks the life out of everyone around her and the other is a shrew who stabs anyone nearby with her rapier tongue and bad intentions. James is subjected to both--made to work long hours chopping wood and cleaning.
He is otherwise not allowed to come out of the house and is locked in the basement to sleep on the cold hard floor. He is not permitted to attend school, to play with other children, or to journey out of the yard. He is often denied food as well. The evil aunts wish that he would die. This is a Cinderella story with extra abuse piled on.
While chopping wood one day, James meets an old wizardly man who gives him a small bag of magic green crystals that have the power to solve James' dilemma. However, James falls and spills them into the roots of a peach tree that has never bloomed and is told to get back to work by his aunts. Soon a peach appears on the tree and the aunts sell tickets to view it as it becomes the size of a house. Later, James is invited inside the peach by a cadre of insects, arachnids, and worms--who all swallowed some of his magic green crystals and grew to become as large as James.
Together, they roll away in the giant peach--leaving his aunts flattened behind them. Then, they float on the Atlantic, suffer 100 sharks, fly aloft under seagull power, and survive attacks by hailstone attacks, frying pans, and hair oil bottles from the Cloud Men. They finally arrive safely in New York City. During their journey, the buggy crew openly admires James' wit and cleverness, which helps to build his self-confidence.
In New York, the Mayor, Police Department, and Fire Department regard the peach team as intruders from outer space. This story was penned during the early Space Program and the Cold War, so this alarmist view is relevant to the times. Even today, there's a fear of space intruders and earthly terrorists. In a series of limericks and other rhymes, the crew of the peach describe themselves and their worth and are adopted by the city.
The Grasshopper joins the symphony orchestra, the other bugs receive high-level jobs. The Glow Worm becomes the light in the torch of the Statue of Liberty. The Lady Bug marries the Fire Chief; and James moves into the giant peach-pit house placed in Central Park for him. There, he receives all children daily for education and entertainment.