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Bad Dad

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Bad Dad Book Poster Image
Gangsters, poop, lots of heart in zany British bestseller.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

While there's a lot of cartoonish hijinks in Bad Dad, there's also a lot of (often cartoonish) detail about British daily life. And quite a bit of practical physics as Frank's dad, a skilled race car driver, uses mad skills and clever load-shifting to make Queenie the car perform impossible feats and get them out of tight spots. Reluctant readers will probably appreciate the lively illustrations by Tony Ross AND the fact that the type tends to get REALLY BIG when something important's happening.

Positive Messages

Along with a whole raft of bathroom and grossout humor, there are strong messages of family loyalty, creative thinking, protecting your loved ones, and looking out for your community. Also: Money doesn't buy happiness, and often causes a whole lot of trouble.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Plenty of people behave badly, from the local gang lord and his henchmen to Frank's mom, who ditches the family when his dad falls on hard times. But the bond between Frank and dad Gilbert is strong -- despite the fact that Gilbert makes some ill-advised choices, he's only trying to protect Frank or make him happy. Even when he's being a Bad Dad, it's because he's trying to be a good one. Fortunately, while Frank is often confused, his moral compass is strong and he's determined to put things right. In a subplot, two lonely women find love with each other and get married.

Violence & Scariness

Most of the mayhem is cartoonish, but there's a lot of it, from gangsters extorting neighborhood residents by beating them and smashing up their shops to brandishing guns at critical moments.A gangster squeezes Frank's ears till Frank feels his brain is going to burst. Dad gets arrested and sent to prison. An unexplained and life-changing car wreck costs Gilbert his leg and  proves to be attempted murder. Throughout, there's a lot of don't-try-this-at-home near-fatal daredevil driving.

Language

Frank's drunken, long-absent mother calls him a "rude little toerag" when he doesn't want to kiss her. Bathroom humor, grossout humor, and grossout bathroom humor galore. Also fart jokes, butt jokes (and cartoons), etc.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Bad Dad is best-selling British author David Walliams' wacky, loonily dystopian cartoon of a tale celebrating the father-son bond. It involves Gilbert, a celebrated race car driver who, along with his son Frank, is celebrated by the whole neighborhood till he loses a leg and his career in an accident. Assorted mayhem ensues, involving gangsters terrorizing the locals, to say nothing of Gilbert's bad but well-meant choices getting him a new career as a getaway driver. As things go from bad to worse, Frank struggles to right wrongs and save the day. There's butt, bathroom, and grossout humor galore, and adults are often found at "the boozer" (kids go there in search of them), and one adult character is a sloppy drunk. Gangsters beat up neighborghood residents, smash their shops, and brandish guns. A gangster squeezes Frank's ears till Frank feels his brain's going to burst. An unexplained car wreck costs Gilbert his leg and proves to be attempted murder. Amid all the craziness there are strong messages of father-son love, looking out for each other, courage, persistence -- and avoiding greed.

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What's the story?

Gilbert wasn't always a BAD DAD. No, he was Gilbert the Great, king of the banger-car races, and he and his beloved young son, Frank, were adored by the neighborhood. Then comes the accident that costs Gilbert his leg, ends his race-driving career, and soon sends him from hero to zero in the community. By the time Frank turns 11, they're living a grim life of privation and scuzzy underwear when debt-collecting local gangsters, busy terrorizing the whole neighborhood, draft Gilbert to drive getaway cars -- because if he doesn't, Frank will suffer. Things go downhill from there. But Frank is not ready to give up.

Is it any good?

Bestselling British author David Walliams dishes up a loony, warm-hearted tale of an overwhelmed 11-year-old kid, his formerly famous father, and their battered but faithful Mini race car. Challenges and crazy events are plentiful as they deal with assorted no-goodniks and unlikely save-the-day strategies. Fans of gross and/or crude humor will find plenty to entertain them in Bad Dad, but there's also a fast-moving plot, over-the-top embellishments (like the really bad poetry written by young Frank's aunt), clever thinking, and bravery as the bond between imperfect but loving characters conquers all. A cartoonishly dystopian British setting is part of the fun.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about well-meaning characters being forced or tricked into doing bad things they'd never do otherwise, as happens in Bad Dad. Does this happen in other stories you know? Are those characters able to get out of the bad situation? How?

  • How does the description of daily life in this fictional English town compare with other stories you know that are set in England?

  • If you like playing with race cars, do you like to make them go fast or, as in this story, make them go fast and also run into each other? Have you ever been to a real-life race car event? How did you like it?

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