The War With Grandpa

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
The War With Grandpa Book Poster Image
War of wills tests a family in this funny classic.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Pete's grandpa teaches him about fixing things and flounder fishing. Pete and his friends play the board game  Risk, during which they strategize about war.

Positive Messages

A room can be your safe space, a place that defines you. Family life can be fun and reliable. You don't always have to do what your friends tell you to do. You can think and act for yourself. 

Positive Role Models

Pete loves and respects his parents and grandpa, but their decision-making can happen without his input, which he finds really frustrating. Pete's grandpa gets upset with Pete and slaps him across the face, making Pete feel hurt and confused. All of the characters in the book are presumably White.

Violence & Scariness

After Pete begins the turf war with his grandpa, his grandpa gets very frustrated with Pete's stubbornness and slaps him across the face. Pete's face is red, and he feels "mixed up" and upset, but doesn't tell anyone because he is "ashamed." Peter says, "Grandpa is so devilish I wanted to hit him on the head with a suitcase."

Language

"Crap," "hell."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Robert Kimmel Smith's The War With Grandpa is a funny book that has been made into a major motion picture starring Robert de Niro. Pete's grandpa is mourning the loss of Pete's grandma, who has died of emphysema, and he's not acting like the same old grandpa -- not joyful and fun. Instead, he "mopes" around the house and behaves as though he's deflated. Pete doesn't take his grandpa's grief into much consideration when he goes to war with him over moving into his room. His best friends Billy and Steve tell Pete he's being too easy on his grandpa, and that he should start a campaign of "gorilla warfare." Pete and Grandpa play pranks on each other like setting the alarm clock to wake the other person up at the wrong time, or hiding the other person's valuables. Grandpa doesn't react well to the pranks Pete plays on him, and slaps him hard in the face, causing Pete to feel confused and "ashamed" to tell anyone about it. Though he never apologizes for hitting him, Grandpa says it was a "fool thing to do." Strong language is limited to "crap" and "hell."

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What's the story?

In THE WAR WITH GRANDPA, Pete learns from his parents that his room, his place in the world, is about to be handed over to his grandpa. Grandpa, who's mourning the loss of Pete's grandma, is moving from Florida to Pete's family home in New York. But since he walks with a limp, he can't easily make it to the third floor where there's a spare room. Instead, he's given Pete's room, and that's all there is to it. Pete is beyond upset. He takes his grievance to his friends Steve and Billy, who advise him to fight back. And so Pete decides to go to war with his grandpa, essentially trying to wear him down so that he'll give up and move out of Pete's room. But Grandpa isn't going to go down without a fight. His pranks are just as "devilish" as Pete's. Pete is going to have to learn the difference between protest and being hurtful, and Grandpa needs to take a look at his emotional responsibilities as the battle comes to a peak.

Is it any good?

Written in the quirky voice of a spunky kid, this story pushes boundaries of respect between generations. The War with Grandpa has tender moments of bonding, such as when Pete's grandpa takes him flounder fishing on a boat on the Long Island Sound. But it also has peaks of confrontation, like when Pete's grandpa slaps 10-year-old Pete across the face for being stubborn. That slap comes as a shock to Pete, and it shifts the tone in the book to one where a kid might get hurt if he talks back to adults. There's also talk about "psychological warfare," whereby Grandpa makes Pete extremely nervous because Pete doesn't know what to expect Grandpa to do.

Pete's sense of loyalty to his room is a great plot device that kids will relate to. As he says, "This room is MINE. Nobody else in my family ever lived in it." He knows the sounds, the shadows at night, and he knows it's his. When Grandpa intrudes, it feels like a personal insult. Kids will also like the real quality of Pete's voice (he and his friends used made up words like "furzy" instead of cussing), and they will enjoy the fact that the book is written by Pete for an English class. It's a fun read, but there are missed opportunities for richer subplot and more fleshed-out characters.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about peer pressure in The War With Grandpa. How much influence do Pete's friends have over his home life? How much do your friends have over yours? 

  • Pete's family play games and sometimes watch TV together. There's no such thing as screen time. How do you like to spend your time when you're not using a device?

  • Did you see the movie version of The War with Grandpa? If so, how does the book compare? If not, would you like to see it now?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love funny books and tales of grandparents

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