Fans of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid books and readers of Roald Dahl will find a similar “imaginormous” story line accompanied by pictures in David Walliams latest tween novel, Grandpa’s Great Escape. Illustrations by Tony Ross add humor to the story of Jack and his Grandpa, a legendary World War II pilot in the Ro
yal Air Force who has begun to exhibit symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
Set in 1983 in London, the book begins like a theatrical production, with a list of opening credits followed by the cast of characters who are drawn with humor and a lively use of line. Featured later in the text, I especially enjoyed the creative caricatures Ross rendered of 15 military mustaches displayed like fashion plates. Decorative fonts and pen and ink drawings, with occasional washes, interspersed throughout the book complement the adventures of twelve-year-old Jack.
A naturally shy boy with few friends, Jack has a passion for assembling his prized collection of model airplanes and for spending time with his grandfather, who tells incredible stories of daring battles and of heroes and villains who have shaped the world. Because the glory days of his time as a pilot would come flooding back, Grandpa loved to visit the Imperial War Museum with his grandson, who has no difficulty entering Grandpa’s world when he begins to live in the past. Although everyone else sees Grandpa’s condition as a problem, for Jack, the way his grandfather’s mind works is “nothing short of magical” (154). With Grandpa, Jack can be brave in his imaginary airplane, although he has never felt brave in real life. With Grandpa, history comes alive, a subject that Jack’s history teacher Miss Verity manages to make deathly dull and mind-numbing.
Jack gets the opportunity to act with bravery, however, when his grandfather is sent to Twilight Towers, no ordinary old folk’s home. Something sinister is happening at Twilight Towers, and Jack is determined not only to solve the mystery but to break his grandfather out of what Grandpa thinks is Colditz Castle, “the most heavily fortified prisoner-of-war camp there is” (228)! Rather than confuse his grandfather further by breaking the illusion, Jack plays along as the Squadron Leader, and their adventures unfold until the surprising conclusion.
With this historical fiction account, Walliams takes readers down an adventure-rich path that will help children to think about life’s later years with a more positive attitude about aging. In addition, the book’s back matter, a glossary of historical details from World War II, clarifies details in the text and makes it easier for readers to use the book.
- Posted by Donna