By Awnali Mills
Jack absolutely adores his grandfather. Grandpa was a World War II flying ace, and Jack grew up listening to tales of Grandpa’s part of the war. Together, the two relive the battles, triumphs, and daring escapes. But gradually, Grandpa’s past has become his present. He’s confused when confronted by modern realities, but strong and confident when he believes he’s in the middle of the war. But Jack’s parents aren’t as understanding as Jack, and when Grandpa has to be hauled out of a museum’s Spitfire, they put him in Twilight Towers—a horrid home for the elderly. Jack is determined to rescue him, but will his determination be enough to save the day?
Walliams’ writing has been compared to Roald Dahl’s with good reason, and the illustrations by Tony Ross are definitely evocative of Quentin Blake’s work. Jack is smart and resourceful, and, aside from Grandpa, the rest of the book is peopled with bumbling, evil, and idiotic caricatures of adults. Naturally, this makes for a delightful read. Just like Dahl, Walliams’ writing is fantastical and stretches the bounds of (adult) credulity.
Jack really loves his Grandpa, and I thought the book was a lovely depiction of the bond between grandparent and grandchild, even through the film of dementia. The book is also a caring tribute to the men and women who fought World War II so bravely. Grandpa makes history come alive, and he is courageous, wily, and physically strong. His mind might wander, but his spirit is quite intact.
A few words of caution. This book isn’t an accurate depiction of dementia or Alzheimer’s (at least in my experience). For a child who is dealing with a grandparent going through this, they may experience anger and frustration that their own grandparent isn’t as wonderfully active and strong as Grandpa. However, the book could lead to some honest discussion about the realities of what an elderly relative or friend might be going through.
Because Grandpa is living in the 1940’s, he refers to a Hindi friend as “Char Wallah.” As Walliams explains in the glossary, this is a “term used by the British Army stationed in India for the local people who served them tea.” (pg. 436). In the story, Raj is not offended by this because a wallah is someone who does something, like we use the term “guy” (i.e. pizza guy). But because there is a whiff of colonialism to the term, some people might be offended.
If you have Dahl fans who have run out of reading material, don’t hesitate to give them Grandpa’s Great Escape.