Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
As an avid reader who grew up in the era when Enid Blyton was the most exciting writer of children’s books, it was with a blend of delight and envy that that I read Code Name Bananas by David Walliams.
Delight because it is a riotous tale of a young boy, his old uncle and a gorilla facing the threats and challenges of living in wartime London. Envy because it is so well written and is illustrated with such an hilarious zest that it compels a reader to frequently laugh out loud.
Eric, the small hero, is bullied at school because of his protruding ears, so he spends his spare time at London Zoo with his uncle, Sid, who is a keeper. Tragedy strikes when a bomb destroys his home and both beloved parents are killed. His love of animals has saved his life!
Sid, bravely surviving the first world war, now has to walk on tin legs. He ‘adopts’ and cares for Eric.
Gertrude is the gorilla, terrified by the nightly air raids and tries to escape her cage. She is deemed a menace and threat to people’s safety, so the zoo’s vet, Miss Gnarl, is happily determined to euthanise her.
There are others who appear – more caricature than characters.
Bessie, the exuberant next door neighbour is full of laughter, love, and is a marvellous cakemaker – especially ones crammed full of raisins.
At the zoo, there is Sir Frederick Frown, with his frightful lisp.
Colonel Blatter, an old soldier from WW1, is constantly reminding others of his status and rank.
Helene and Bertha run a guest house, with no guests, at Bognor Regis.
Captain Speer, a U Boat commander, lurks threateningly off the South Coast, ready to strike.
It is the humour that makes Code Name Bananas such a wonderfully entertaining read. One page displays ‘The Spotter’s Guide to Droppings’. Several messy piles are shown, ranging from barely visible ant’s droppings to a massive heap of elephant’s.
The gorilla, being such an intelligent beast, has a repertoire of party tricks. Peeling a banana with her feet, swinging on a rope like Tarzan, giving the crowd a Royal wave are amongst the dozen or so illustrated.
Later, the colonel suggests chaos would ensue should Gertrude run riot in London. Amongst such behaviour, sipping tea at Claridge’s, playing croquet with King George VI in the Palace gardens, driving a London taxi, waving from the door of No.10, is depicted.
The book is almost 500 pages long, yet it is unflagging in its appeal. Humour accompanies adventure and excitement.
In their brilliant plan to leave London in order to protect Gertrude, there is a side-splitting episode when Gertrude is disguised as a newly wedded bride. (The veil is essential in this disguise). There are the suspenseful few pages when two policemen are unconvinced by the ‘bride’ sitting on Sid’s old wheelchair. Their efforts to catch the train would impress Buster Keaton!
So much laughter is owed to the talents of Tony Ross, who drew the illustrations. One of my favourites is the trio emerging from the Lost Property Office in fresh disguises. Words cannot do justice to the sight of the three – especially Sid in his summer frock, beard and all!
They bravely face Bognor, weathering the cold, a fierce storm and the mysterious twins in the spooky old guest house. The thrills know no bounds. Poison, U-boats, and a plot to blow up Parliament and kill Churchill are listed and much more.
Words like ‘SWOOSH’, ‘SPLURT’ and ‘WHOOMPH’ and many others sprinkled throughout make this an ideal case for being an audio book.
Code Name Bananas is a book that is bound to grip young readers. David Walliams has sold millions with his previous works and is loved the world over. This is the first of his books I have read. My only regret is that he wasn’t bestowing laughter and his particular brand of life and love, when I was a child.
Code Name Bananas
by David Walliams and Illustrated by Tony Ross