Reviews /

Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List

Authored by Jenny Pearson
Illustrated by David O'Connell
Published by Usborne Publishing Ltd

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The cartoon cover of this book tells you just what you’re getting, a family comedy with likeable characters, daft jokes and enough adventure to keep it rollicking along. What it doesn’t tell you is that it has several laugh out loud moments, some properly thought-provoking messages about finding out who you are and negotiating family relationships and a heart as big as a Newfoundland dog.

Young Frank has the same name as his dad, and the same name as the grandfather he’s never met. When Grandpa Frank’s wife dies, she mistakenly leaves our hero half a million pounds and instructions that if he takes care of his grandfather he will receive a mysterious reward.

What does taking care of Grandpa Frank mean? Well, of course, the story is there in the title. There’s a hot air balloon ride, a dog show, learning parkour, swimming with dolphins, monster truck driving and more. Of course, nothing goes quite right so there’s lots of humorous thrills and spills and a lot of falling into duck ponds.

Alongside the slapstick is more heartfelt material. Grandpa Frank is estranged from his family, living in a grim old folk’s home and getting increasingly forgetful in a way that is never played for laughs. Young Frank’s dad, that’s Grandpa Frank’s son, is a ne’er do well, always wheeling and dealing and getting himself into trouble, some comic, some more serious. And while we know dad and mum love each other, we can see that his behaviour is putting their relationship under real strain, and why is she spending so much time with ultra-tanned Tony at the tennis club?

Smart readers are not going to have much trouble predicting the direction the book will take but Jenny Pearson does manage to throw a couple of twists in that kept this reader on his toes. The adventures on the bucket list are properly integrated in a way that not every author would prioritise making this a proper story, not just a series of silly set ups. Jenny Pearson manages to balance the funnies and the serious stuff in a way that means a reader who is there for the laughs should be satisfied and carried along while a reader who is ready for a little emotional content will have something to ponder.

Young readers who are moving up from Wimpy Kid and Tom Gates will find the illustrations by David O’Connell reassuring. They aren’t there on every page but do make a splash when they turn up – I loved the ‘swimming with dolphins’ spread and found the illustration of the culminating supermarket rooftop scene useful, there’s a LOT of moving parts to keep track of there!

I was surprised and pleased to find two appendices at the end of the book – a quiz asking young readers to guess at the ages of older people who have achieved remarkable things (guess the age of the oldest person to abseil down Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower – answer at the end) and an article talking about actions we can take to ensure that the elderly are integrated into young people’s lives. This is worthwhile and prompted me to look back at the book and notice how sensitively Grandpa Frank’s memory loss is handled.

The final section, post reconciliation, is genuinely moving. All three Franks, Grandfather, son and grandson, are united by what feels like a very authentic love. Grandpa may no longer know if he’s talking to his son or his grandson but he knows he loves them and they know they love him. I may be old and sentimental but I bet I’m not the only reader who had to stop and blink away some tears.

Grandpa Frank’s Great Big Bucket List delivers more than it promises. It’s silly, funny, thought provoking and, at times genuinely moving. Quite an achievement. I would very happily have this book in my class library in upper Key Stage 2 and I can imagine a confident Year 4 finding lots to enjoy.

Shortlisted for The Week Junior Book Award Older Fiction Category