The Runaways is an inter-generational adventure filled with warmth and humor from one of the world's great writers for children.
Grandpa hates being in hospital. He thinks only of the place he was happiest—the island where he used to live. He wants to go back, but they won't let him out of the hospital.
So Gottfried Junior, his namesake, helps Grandpa make a plan to run away. They think of everything. Their deception is so complete that when Gottfried Junior finally decides to tell the truth, no one believes him.
"A boy helps his ailing grandfather go home one last time in this Swedish import. Gottfried finds life enlivened by his feisty grandfather, who's always been 'difficult.' They are true kindred spirits. Confined now to the hospital with a broken leg and weak heart, Grandpa's 'worse than ever.' Gottfried's dad avoids hospital visits because Grandpa's naughty behavior and declining condition make him 'tired and sad.' He rejects Gottfried's plea to bring Grandpa to live with them, insisting he's 'too sick and angry and stubborn and crazy.' Pretending to be at football training, Gottfried visits Grandpa in the hospital and suggests they should run away. Lying to his parents about where he's going overnight, Gottfried surreptitiously transports Grandpa to the island house where he lived with Grandma until she died. Back home for one night, Grandpa happily reverts to his old clothes, savors Grandma's last jar of lingonberry jam, and says farewell to his old life before returning to the hospital. Gottfried's accessible, unadorned, heartfelt first-person narration reveals the depth of his bond with his grandfather as well as his insightful understanding of his father's limitations. Linear, colored-pencil drawings capture key interactions between characters and revel in Grandpa's choler. Characters are white (or, in Grandpa's case, grouchily pink). A touching, realistic, gently humorous story of how a sensitive boy copes with his treasured grandfather's decline."—starred, Kirkus Reviews—Journal
"Gottfried Junior loves visiting Grandpa in the hospital, where the patient routinely swears, spits out his pills, and yells at the staff. Soon they hatch a plan: they'll escape for an overnight in the isolated island home where Grandpa lived with Grandma before she died. The boy convinces his parents that he must attend an overnight football training camp. Actually, he springs Grandpa from the hospital. Back in his familiar home, Grandpa reconnects with his old life, feels his profound grief, and changes his outlook a bit. After returning his grandfather to the hospital, the boy intends to keep quiet about their caper. Instead, he suddenly confesses the whole escapade to his father who, ironically, scolds him for lying. A Swedish author whose picture books include When Dad Showed Me the Universe (2015) and The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits (2014), Stark writes Gottfried Junior's first-person narrative with clarity, honesty, and wit. This chapter book is blunt yet light-handed in acknowledging anger, sorrow, death, and the mystery of the afterlife. Deftly drawn and sometimes amusing, the character portrayals are utterly convincing. Expressive full-page illustrations add color to the pages while supporting the story’s tone. An unusual adventure story with a core of mutual grandfather-grandson affection."—starred, Booklist
"Books for middle-grade readers can suffer the same affliction as all too many older-kid and grown-up books: bombastic, bloated, adverb-crammed. Sometimes an economical, minimalist book — like these three — is exactly what a youthful reader needs in this amped-up world.
Written by the beloved Swedish author Ulf Stark and generously illustrated by the Belgian artist Kitty Crowther, a winner of the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, and translated from the Swedish by Julia Marshall, The Runaways (Gecko, 144 pp., $17.99; ages 6 to 11) also depicts a culture that will seem very different to most American kids. Gottfried, the protagonist, lives in such a free-range way, he makes the most independent American kid look snowplow-parented. Henkes's and Venkatraman's books feature gentle humor, but The Runaways is flat-out hilarious. And shocking. And weird.
Gottfried's grandpa is in the hospital after a fall, 'red-faced and swearing,' in a rage about being shut up like a wild animal. Gottfried, who feels closer to Grandpa than to his own disapproving, prim father, resolves to break Grandpa out for one last adventure. He concocts an elaborate plan — a fake football tournament in another town, a local baker named Ronny cast in multiple roles to fool Gottfried's father and hoodwink the hospital — to get Grandpa to the island where he used to live with Grandma. The plot works. Grandpa gets to pay a final visit to a place he loved, and claim the last jar of jam Grandma ever made. Gottfried gets to prove his competence: lighting a fire, pumping water, making dinner.
But when Gottfried's father discovers his son's deception, it forces a three-generation confrontation, raising questions of mortality and morality. Is it wrong to lie if it makes people happy? The writing is unflashy and deadpan except for when it's unflashy and musical, as when, on the journey back to the hospital, Grandpa 'sat himself up, turned his nose to the sea and said goodbye to the islands, the sky, the cliffs, the lighthouse and the eternally washing waves.' Crowther's bright, naïve pencil illustrations fit the offbeat text. They're ravishingly ugly: Grandpa is huge and pink and hideous, with black hairs sprouting from his hands and angry black lines traversing his forehead. Ronny is covered with measles-like freckles and has a golden halo.
All three of these short, tight books show tremendous respect for the young reader. For a certain kind of meditative kid, they're perfect."—The New York Times—Newspaper
"The portrait of old age and infirmity in this Swedish import is considerably more unvarnished that we're used to in books for children. Grandpa is no lovable old codger. In the hospital with a broken leg and a failing heart, he's furious, foul-mouthed, self-centered, and abusive to the staff. Even his own son can't stand him. His only ally is his grandson, a boy with a deep-seated affection for the old man and admiration for his stubbornness. Together they plan and carry out an elaborate secret breakout, an overnight retreat to Grandpa's family home on an island. There's no Hallmark moment, but in matter-of-fact discussions of death, heaven, and 'compassionate lying,' the old man and the young boy come to a place of acceptance and peace. A single crow signifies the essence of a person; a jar of lingonberry jam is a delicate stand-in for love and loss. The plot of a child helping an old person go on the lam isn't particularly original; ditto the theme of grandparents and grandchildren in alliance against parents. But in this iteration every emotional effect is fully earned, and the final beat—in which we learn, obliquely, that Grandpa has died—is deeply affecting. Frequent full-page illustrations, in colored pencil, match the text in being simultaneously homely and honest."—The Horn Book Magazine—Journal
"After Gottfried Junior's beloved, cantankerous grandfather, a former ship's engineer, suffers a bad fall, he lands in the hospital. Miserable, he asks his kindred-spirit grandson to help him briefly flee to his house in the Stockholm archipelago, where he has 'one or two things to attend to.' With remarkable attention ('you have to think of everything'), the boy sees to all the details—manufacturing an overnight football club trip, garnering meatballs from his mother, and hiring a butcher’s assistant to convey them. The plans go off without a hitch, though it takes Grandfather two hours to walk up the hill to the front door, and he largely refuses to share the final jar of his late wife's lingonberry jam ('part of her is still in it'). Autumn-hued illustrations by Crowther (Stories of the Night) juxtapose the dull hospital against glorious piney islands and a light-filled sea. Stark straightforwardly conveys family tensions, end-of-life concerns, and intergenerational adoration alongside an archipelago's worth of vivid details—the removal of paraffin wax from the jam jar, the 'wonderful smell of oil' from the ferry's engine room, potatoes steaming in their pot. Most children's books about breakouts involve a child abandoning a place; this one follows a man at the end of his life to the home he holds dear."—starred, Publishers Weekly—Journal
Ulf Stark is one of the world's great writers. Author of over 30 books for children and young adults, he has won many prizes, including the German Youth Literature Prize and the Astrid Lindgren Prize. He was shortlisted for the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2018.
Kitty Crowther is an Astrid Lindgren Award-winning author and illustrator based in Belgium.