Told you I wasn't dead! I wrote this before the whole computer death thing, so I'm just going to leave it as is.
Still going semi-strong on this reviewing thing! I've been trying to get it so I'll have either a review or a "Things I've Read Recently" post every Monday. I mean, it's a work in progress, but I am working on it.
Gangsta Granny by David Walliams
Published: 2011 by HarperCollins Children's Books
Genre: MG Contemporary
Page Count: 299
Part of a series? No.
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound
Summary (from goodreads): Ben is bored beyond belief after he is made to stay at his grandma's house. All she wants to do is to play Scrabble, and eat cabbage soup. But there are two things Ben doesn't know about his grandma: she was once an international jewel thief and she has been plotting to steal the crown jewels. Now she needs Ben's help.
Review: I'm doing a Soup Storytime at work so I was looking up "soup" books on my library website and this came up in my search results. The cover looked neat and it sounded good, and I was logged into the website, so I ordered it. You might notice that tends to be a theme with me. I didn't really know what to expect because I'd never heard of this before. You might notice I'm a wee bit out of the loop because of that whole thing with the year long accidental hiatus. But I also don't know a ton about British Kids' Lit in general.
This is really funny. It's completely and utterly ridiculous and implausible in that way that childrens' books are sometimes wonderful for. Ben's parents are obsessed with this dancing show, Strictly Stars Dancing (kind of like a Dancing With the Stars expy) and apparently own "an unrivalled collection of Strictly memorabilia". Ben and his grandmother plan a heist to steal the Crown Jewels from the Queen who shows up wearing fuzzy corgi slippers. I have this as contemporary, but it's almost not just because it's so silly, and I really enjoyed that.
The back says nine and up and I definitely think some nine year olds would snap this up, but I also think it might be a little above some nine year olds' reading level. It probably isn't the best book for a reluctant reader because the writing does feel like it reads a little higher, but it would be a good book to challenge a kid who is having a hard time finding books that are harder, but still fun.
The only thing I think might get a little confusing is that sometimes it is a very British book. It's easier, I think, for Canadians sometimes (like, America, why don't you have Mars Bars???) but like, one page a "lime green thong" was mentioned and I'm pretty sure they meant a flip-flop, but that's the kind of thing that could be a little confusing for kids who don't know British slang. It's like how for half my life I couldn't figure out how you read under the sheets with a torch and why one of the first things I did upon getting internet access was look up what a knickerbocker glory was, thank you Harry Potter. Kind of fun, really, for some kids, although some might find it somewhat frustrating. Really depends on the kid.
Plot Talk: Oh, gosh, I don't even know how to describe this. Ben spends Friday nights with his grandmother while his parents have date night. He thinks it's super boring because she smells like cabbage, cooks cabbage into everything including cake, and her TV doesn't work so all they do is play Scrabble. Then he finds a tin of jewelry and his grandmother tells him that in her youth she was an international jewel thief. Together, they cook up a plan to steal the Crown Jewels. Plus hijinks!
...I think that'll work. This is hard to describe because it's just so wild and silly and illogical, but it works in the book to really make you want to keep reading to find out just what happens.
Characters: Ben was a very relatable character. He's a slow reader who isn't super interested in school. At least, not until he's given something to really make him want to learn, which in this case is... stealing the Crown Jewels. While this is kind of silly, it's actually a good example of how some kids learn better and can really enjoy learning when you relate it their interests or make it interesting for them. It's also super sweet how him and his grandmother bond over a shared interest... again, even if that interest is stealing the Crown Jewels. I also really liked that he was interested in plumbing. It's not something you usally read in childrens' books.
His parents were very cartoonish at first and one dimensional. I think that does follow along with the way the writing style is, where it's somewhat similar to Roald Dahl and that kind of style. Think about Matilda's parents, say, or the aunts in James and the Giant Peach. Ben's parents seem to be only into their ballroom dancing and even sometimes neglectful of their son. But they do seem to grow and reveal more of themselves to Ben as the book goes on, along with paying more attention to him, and that works very well. He also gets closer to his parents eventually along with getting closer to his grandmother.
As for his grandmother... well, the idea of your grandmother being an international jewel thief is pretty awesome. So the concept of that alone is really neat. Granny seemed like a pretty British grandmother as far as I can tell, but again, it worked well. I think a lot of kids could understand not really knowing their grandparents and maybe even not liking staying with them sometimes.
Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: There's some toilet humour that kids would probably love because they're gross and weird, but parents might not. I didn't notice any language and there's not really anything for violence. There were a couple of fat jokes/rude comments made about Ben's dad, like him being "too fat for the police" because apparently fat people can't run. I'm not into fat jokes and that was something I didn't like at all.
There's a twist to the ending. And I actually wonder if it wouldn't be hard on some kids. I will put it in the next section so as it's very spoilery, skip straight to cover comments if you don't want to see it. I also don't really think the book needed it and think it might have been better without it, honestly.
PG-13 stuff: Again, some toilet humour. And the spoilery part skip this part if you want I'll talk a bit more but seriously skip this is you don't wanna know the twisty part of the end can I stop typing have you stopped reading? Okay. So, at the end of the book, we find out that the grandmother is sick and she does actually die. And while I don't think death needs to be completely avoided in childrens' literature - and actually I think it's important and a good tool to maybe help kids deal with death - this book? Didn't really need it. It comes basically out of nowhere unless you pay very close to attention to one clue. And many kids probably wouldn't catch it, and it's only in the last thirty pages that it's dealt with and it can come off kind of rushed, but also very shocking. And it didn't really work for me because of that.
OKAY SPOILERS DONE.
Cover comments: Obviously, the cover caught my attention well enough! It seems like a pretty traditional cover to me. It sort of reminds me of Cressida Cowell's covers a little. I don't think it's amazing, but it's nice and it works well.
Conclusion: All in all, I enjoyed Gangsta Granny. For the most part, it's a very light, silly read. The illustrations by Tony Ross (whose picture books I know, actually) are fun, although there aren't that many of them. They're a nice addition and add a little extra character to the book. I liked the voice, including the occasional break of the fourth wall, and it was just fun in general. I'm not sure I would quite compare this to Roald Dahl, but I do think that they would probably appeal to similar audiences.
However, I think that the part of the ending that I mentioned in my PG-13 stuff section really detracts from the book overall because it's very shocking and doesn't intergrate into the book as well. I didn't realize how much it bothered me until I was writing this and trying to decide whether to put it in the PG-13 section or the Complaints section, but it didn't sit well with me and I wasn't a fan of that. So because it was such a big surprise and it didn't work so badly, I have to knock off a half rose, so instead of four, this one has to get a three and a half rose rating.
- Ben's favourite candy was Rolos and I actually had to stop and think about if the US has Rolos. And then I had to ask people because I didn't know. Turns out, yes. But y'all don't really have Mars Bars, you don't have Aeros and you don't have Wunderbars. Weirdness!
Okay, I think that's everything. Have you read this? What'd you think?
Peace and cookies,