Granny Samurai, The Monkey King and I

She’s tough and toothy and lives on cold coffee. And, as Samuel Johnson discovers, Granny Samurai is a neighbour worth knowing. When Samuel’s uncle leaves him home alone, the old gal sees off the biggest bully in school with some neat Japanese manoeuvres. In return timid Samuel is recruited as bait to catch her hairy nemesis the Monkey King. Will he survive the ordeal – and even seize the chance for a spot of crafty heroism? 

Nervous, bookish and as eloquent as his namesake, Samuel is an engaging narrator. His pomposity adds to the fun, especially when he invents words. He jumps with ‘startitude’ and the ‘whew’ of a rhino ‘whiffs’ him on the nose. As for Granny Samurai, she’s a tornado of a woman: her few words are often incomprehensible, but always challenging. ‘Weirdos won’t water waiting wallabies,’ she mutters, adding even more mysteriously, ‘that’s an anagram.’ Her blunt speech is a brilliant foil for Samuel’s flowery prose, which mixes simple and sophisticated words so merrily that young readers will hopefully be inspired to head for the dictionary, or at least the parent.

This is a wonderful, original comedy thanks largely to a granny whose heart is more steel than gold. She’s almost as dangerous an ally as she is a foe with her wooden leg and secret art of Kenjo, which confers powers such as berserking, the act of becoming your rage. 

The illustrations too rampage through the book in furious black and white, capturing perfectly this fearsome, unforgettable crone.