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Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

A Times Educational Supplement Teachers' Top 100 Book

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: A beautiful, emotional story that I enjoyed reading at school but loved even more now I'm grown up!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Puffin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0141332253

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It's been a long time since I read Goodnight Mister Tom at school. Picking it up again twenty five years later I wondered how good I would find it. I needn't have worried. This wonderful story captured my attention from the very beginning and I became so caught up in Tom and Will's lives that I didn't want it to end. Set during World War Two, William Beech has been evacuated from London and is placed with Tom Oakley, thanks mainly to his proximity to the local church, as Willie's God-fearing mother requested he be close to a church. They seem an unlikely match, the gruff old man who keeps himself to himself and the thin, timid young boy, but there lies the joy of the story, in watching their relationship grow.

It's a fascinating portrait of England during the war, the experiences of some of the evacuees and general day to day life in a small village. Although the focus of the story is on Tom and Willie we are also introduced to other characters, through Will's interaction with them, each of whom is going through their own personal wartime story, and so the whole fictional world seems well fleshed out and believable. Will makes friends in the village, both local children and other evacuees, and so we catch glimpses of their lives too, as well as other adults he comes into contact with. Everyone has their own back story and as you read it seems conceivable that the story's focus could easily have switched to one of them and worked just as well.

I liked that the realities of the evacuation aren't skirted over, with bed-wetting, malnutrition and head lice all making an appearance. Not everyone is as lucky as Will in their new family too and some evacuees are mentioned as being used for farm labour, and others make a run for it and go back to London, happier to risk their lives there than live in the countryside. Part of the story goes back to London too, so we get a glimpse of the city in wartime which is also fascinating.

For all the beauty of Tom and Will's relationship, and the interesting historical details, this isn't a book of sweetness and light. Will has come from a very controlling, abusive relationship with his mother and there are some disturbing moments relating to this. There are also moments of grief, as there must surely always be in a wartime story, but they are all handled so cleverly by the author that you feel safe whilst you're reading, even when you're reading something terribly sad or shocking. It does require a mature reader however, and probably suits older pre-teens, unless you have a particularly mature and sensible child. Although it is the story of a young boy and the elderly man he goes to live with, the story works well for either boys or girls. And I wouldn't just limit it to children either since I thoroughly enjoyed it myself and could easily come back and read it again in the future.

Reading it as a grown up, and as a parent, I think I engaged with the story in a different way. My heart was full as I saw Mister Tom's wonderful gentleness with Will, his patience, understanding and instinctive knowledge of how to care for this physically and emotionally battered young boy. Their growing relationship is so perfectly portrayed that when Will is sent back to London to his mother I was almost screaming 'No!' out loud in an effort to stop him! The tone between them is perfect, written so lightly and, by the end, I was very emotionally involved with the pair of them and, on finishing, had to sit quietly for a moment and have a little cry!

Full of adventure and friendship, sorrow and joy this story has lost none of its charm in the thirty years since it was first published - I would most definitely recommend this book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Magorian's Smile by Michelle Magorian.

Further reading suggestion: For another great story by Michelle Magorian try Just Henry. You might also enjoy Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.

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Buy Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian at


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