A delightful story with a touch of Narnia-style magic that will enchant young children. Just don’t expect them, or all of the adults, to grasp the underlying theme around coping with the loss of a loved one.
Longlisted for the 2016 CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal
Syd and his Grandad are going on an adventure – through the door in Grandad’s attic to a ship that will sail across an ocean of rooftops to a magical tropical island. They are going to find new wonders at every turn as they explore the island and make lots of new friends in the form of the animals and birds. In fact, it’s such an amazing place that Grandad decides to stay.
Grandad’s Island is being marketed as a book that sensitively deals with the emotional topic of losing a loved one. For adult readers this theme may or may not be obvious. (I tried it out on a few friends and family and the results were mixed.) The island is, presumably, intended to be a depiction of Grandad’s heaven and that is why he decides to stay. At the end a lonely Syd receives a letter from Grandad but the author’s intended meaning is not entirely clear. If Grandad has died, where has the letter come from? My personal guess is that the letter is supposed to suggest that Grandad continues to exist, if only in the boy’s memory. However, when I asked, others had many alternative suggestions. Perhaps Benji Davies has chosen to be deliberately vague.
If adults are confused by the book’s hidden theme, I suspect that children will miss it entirely. But that won’t matter because there is a lot that they will enjoy in this book. Taken as pure fantasy, there is a touch of Narnia about the story as a magic door appears to take them to a miraculous world.
As ever Benji Davies’ illustrations are brightly coloured and full of detail. Children will love spotting the different animals and birds they encounter during the journey and on the island. I personally loved following the adventures of the cat who, without being mentioned, takes the journey to the island and back along with Syd.
Children will also enjoy the close relationship between Syd and his eccentric grandad and may like to imagine themselves doing the same exciting things with their own grandparents. If they don’t have a grandparent, they might want to imagine their own eccentric relative who is happy to travel in pyjama bottoms, to build treehouses and to slide down waterfalls.
There are a few words that are probably beyond the normal vocabulary of the targeted age group but these are easily understood from the context.
Overall this is a delightful story that will enchant young children despite the fact that they are unlikely to understand the book’s underlying theme around coping with the loss of a loved one.
If you enjoyed Benji Davies’s beautiful illustrations, you might also like The Giant of Jum by Elli Woollard and Benji Davies.
Date: July 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Books
Author’s Website: Benji Davies
Review first published on The Bookbag