Review - Jewel-heist gran is another amusing slice of Little Britain

21st October 2011 at 01:00

On the whole, I tend not to be particularly wistful about my prepubescent years. A mortgage and a working summer seem a reasonable price to pay for never again having to multiply fractions or wear party dresses with bows on. And yet reading Gangsta Granny made me want to be nine years old again.

Specifically, it made me want to curl up in a corner, ignoring the world and giggling as I read. Because the book, written by Little Britain comedian David Walliams, is the kind that is going to make prepubescent readers giggle. A lot.

It tells the story of 11-year-old Ben, who is forced to stay with his grandmother every Friday night. He does not enjoy these visits: Granny's idea of a good time involves playing Scrabble, eating cabbage soup and farting.

But then Ben discovers that Granny has a secret past, as a gangsta. ("Ben wasn't sure what the difference between a gangsta and a gangster was," Walliams writes. "But a gangsta seemed much worse.") Her youth was spent planning and executing a succession of daring jewel heists.

And so Ben, using knowledge gleaned from his secret ambition to become a plumber - he hides plumbing magazines under his bed - helps to devise one last, valedictorian heist. Together, he and Granny will infiltrate the Tower of London and steal the crown jewels.

"You have to swear not to tell a soul," Granny says. "Not even your mother and father." This is followed by: "Ben had been learning about Venn diagrams in school recently. As he had sworn not to tell anyone, and let's say that 'anyone' is Set A, then Mum and Dad are obviously included in Set A and are of course a subset of it."

This is exactly the sort of adult illogic that will resonate with young readers. Adults are ridiculous; their demands often make no sense. The hallmark of a good children's writer is the ability to recreate this child's-eye view of the world.

In fact, Walliams' observational writing is one of the highlights of the book. Granny's worn bar of soap "looked like it was half soap, half mould"; the hospital had "lifts that took you to other lifts". And there are some very human touches: Granny flips between being a gangsta of international proportions and a slightly befuddled old lady.

That said, children are sharper readers than he gives them credit for. There are some plot inconsistencies, and not all of the jokes work: there are several set-ups to punchlines that are simply not funny.

But, overall, the plot races along nippily, and with a smartness that adults and children will appreciate.

Buy a copy for the school library. And then curl up in the corner and read it yourself.

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