Our hero Ben is bored beyond belief after he is made to stay at his grandma’s house. She’s the boringest grandma ever: 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.
1) She was once an international jewel thief.
2) All her life, she has been plotting to steal the crown jewels, and now she needs Ben’s help…
Confession time: Gangsta Granny is the first children's book by David Walliams that I have read. The reason for this is that I am generally wary of books written by celebrities, as they can occasionally be of only average quality, relying on the 'big name' to boost sales. Simon Mayo's Itch was a book that went a long way to dispel this prejudice of mine, and through reading a handful of reviews of his previous books, and spotting his name being linked with the shortlists of various book awards, I started to get the feeling that Mr Walliams's books might have a similar effect. I now need to find the time to read The Boy In The Dress, Billionaire Boy and Mr Stink as I simply loved Gangsta Granny.
'The New Roald Dahl' is a title that reviewers seem keen to bestow on any of a number of current writers of funny children's books, including the likes of Andy Stanton and Ivan Brett. However, much as I love the Mr Gum and Casper Candlewacks books there are several elements about Gangsta Granny that have me now thinking that David Walliams is closer to that title than anyone else at the moment. First up, the humour. I have laughed out loud whilst reading Mr Gumm and Casper Candlewacks, but at times it did feel like their respective authors were almost trying too hard to be funny. That was never the case with Roald Dahl, and it certainly wasn't the case with Walliams's Gangsta Granny. Although I loved Little Britain, I did feel that at times it was a little hit and miss, with it occasionally being far too OTT for my tastes, and I was concerned that this would be the case with Walliams's writing. Instead I was pleasantly surprised to find that the humour in Gangsta Granny is much more restrained, and masterfully woven throughout the story, to create a tale that fills the reader with a warm, happy glow that continues long after the book is finished.
This feeling of deep satisfaction is not achieved solely with humour though, and this brings me to the other key element of Gangsta Granny that sets David Walliams above his peers: pathos. Roald Dahl was a master at tapping into the emotions of his readers, and David Walliams is another author who seems to have a firm grasp of how to touch the human heart. The initial relationship between Ben and his grandmother is one that most children (and adults) will be able to associate with. In Ben's mind she is a boring old lady with a passion for Scrabble, and who stinks of cabbage. He hates his weekly Friday night visits when his parents offload him at granny's house so they can go out without him. In fact, it is his parents' attitude towards granny that stinks even more, as they quickly become the villains of the piece. As Ben discovers that his granny might not be as boring as he had initially thought, and the relationship between then grows to a 'you and me vs the world' bond, our heart strings are well and truly plucked at by Walliams.
I won't say any more about the plot as it would take away some of the fun I felt when I read it, and I would hate to do that to you. However, I will add that there are some very poignant moments that may bring tears to the eyes of children and adults alike, and it will certainly have you looking at your grandparents in a very different light in future. If his other books are anywhere near as good as Gangsta Granny, and with his epic swims for charity and his recent stealing-the-show appearances on BGT, David Walliams is fast becoming one of our greatest national treasures. His next book (currently untitled) is due out in October - I'm going to be in the front of the queue for this one. My thanks go to the ever wonderful Rosi at HarperCollins for sending me a copy of Gangsta Granny to review.