The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler by Gene Kemp

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The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler by Gene Kemp

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A more than welcome return for a wonderful book, that will charm and delight those attuned to what might be slightly less well focused and old-fashioned ideas than the modern norm. Still, the book has many major plot elements that have endeared it to generations already.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: January 2015
Publisher: Faber and Faber
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780571313914

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Meet Tyke Tiler. I first did so a very long time ago – I might even have my copy of the original paperback, with its ending-spoiling cover artwork, as one of the few books I carried over from those days. Tyke is a schoolchild in the last year before big school, and is permanently in trouble, partly due to hanging round with Danny Price. It seems wherever Danny unfortunately leads, Tyke follows – whether it's digging sheep bones out the town weir system, or handling stolen goods when Danny nicks a high-value note from one of the teacher's purses. How is the term going to end, when everything Danny does seems to reflect badly on Tyke?

This is a great book, pure and simple. I like it for its old-fashioned qualities, as well as all that makes it stand out as a modern YA title before its time (although its best audience would be about ten or eleven). It has aged slightly poorly, in that this is a school rich in hymns and songs, and staid assemblies disturbed by pet mice, and where Tyke can be one of the dimmer children yet break off from happily making a duodecahedron in class to compare the walk to the Headmaster's office with riding in the tumbrils to the guillotine. How many books from 2015 will feature the narrator even knowing how to spell the geometric figure, let alone take pride in forming one?

The YA factors I mentioned come from the brilliant relationship between Tyke and Danny. It's one you have to feel for, as Danny has a speech defect and Tyke is not only the sole person to stand up for the former, but practically the only one in the school that can understand him. And while Danny is never labelled as an issue, or flagged as an 'important' 'subject', he does come across as someone you have to feel for – just as does Tyke, who like it or not does get in trouble to protect both Danny and the friendship they have.

There's also a juvenile wish-fulfilment aspect of things – a teacher who lets kids wander off on a school outing to buy ice creams for the class out of his money, a secret hideout, and the fact that Tyke can climb in and out of trouble, through years of amicable mischief. The lack of really antagonistic mischief – there is not really one big episode of naughtiness for the plot to hang on – is not an issue; both years ago and on this mature reading I found the very colloquial style of Tyke's narration superb, and clearly a fore-runner for all the chatty narratives we get these days.

If anything will put the current reader off it is a slight woolliness – there are sections of unattributed dialogue, and things come and go through the plot, from the supply teacher to the school subject of King Arthur and a thinly-disguised Exeter's history. I did picture the book as tighter than it is, and I'd forgotten the older sister and the parents struggling to win a local election – but if David Walliams can do that, why can't Ms Kemp? This is a book in the end all about what people can do – care for their contemporaries better than adults, make their individual stamp on the world, and principally get into so many bad books yet still know from one moment to the next the difference between right and wrong. This little Tyke does all that and more, and it's company more than well spent.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

I've never knowingly read another Kemp book - but we have here. I can see Moone Boy: the Blunder Years by Chris O'Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy as something much more modern yet still with Tyke's DNA within.

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