Tom Gates is the master of excuses for late homework: dog attacks; spilt water; and, lightning. Tom’s exercise book is full of his doodles, cartoons and thoughts, as well as comments from his long-suffering teacher, Mr Fullerton. After gaining five merits for his “Camping Sucks” holiday story, Tom’s work starts to go downhill – which is a pity, as he’s desperate to impress Amy Porter, who sits next to him…
As a teacher-librarian, there are certain things you can count upon. Teen girls will always want to read books with broody bad-boy heroes, boys will never ever tell you that there’s too much gore in their story (Walking Dead, anyone?), and books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Brilliant World of Tom Gates will always be the first books to need replacing. There’s something about that magical mix of text and sketches that works for the middle school reader (and the ages before and after as well), and it’s especially wonderful for those reluctant readers.
Still, sometimes I find that the Wimpy Kid series pushes the boundaries a little too much for my liking, at times it verges on insolence and an uncomfortable level of teasing and bullying. It was a relief, therefore, to discover a copy of Tom Gates waiting for me. A British series by Liz Pichon, Tom Gates has won the Roald Dahl prize for humour, and it’s not hard to see why.
Tom is that kid… the kid whose name is the first picked up by the teacher, the kid everyone turns to look at when things go horribly wrong, and the kid who seems to be in the thick of every playground incident. Having said all this, Tom is immensely likable because he’s an everyday kid who makes unintentional mistakes. He fights with his sister, and plays pranks on her in revenge. He finds his parents embarrassing, and cringes when they show up at school in goofy clothes. He secretly crushes on the girl in the next seat, but lacks the confidence and knowledge to talk to her as a normal human being.
It’s very refreshing to read about a likeable kid … he’s not without a fair amount of crazy in his personality, but nothing he does is malicious. His pranks are innocent (such as hiding his sister’s sunglasses), and the author has no problem creating relatable situations where Tom’s enthusiasm gets the better of his judgment (such as rather memorable school photo day and some very creative reasons for not completing homework). Tom dreams of being in a successful band like his idols, Dude 3, and wants his own band, Dog Zombie to work hard to be just as successful. When Tom’s dream of seeing the band live appears to be squashed, your heart breaks just a little for the poor guy (no, I won’t spoil what happens – go read the book).
I love the illustrations, as they are relatable and something that Tom might have drawn himself. Some of the pictures are pretty hilarious, and completely sum up the events (the moment when Tom realizes that he’s taught the younger children his “Delia’s a Weirdo” song is priceless and totally relatable!). The only caution I might have is that the book is very British; however, Pichon has cleverly taken care of this potential problem by including a great glossary in the back, illustrated in the same fashion as the rest of the book.
If you are looking for something for your Grade 3-6 reader that’s fresh and fun, then this is the perfect addition to the bookshelf. I’ve personally given it to several readers I know in that age group, and can tell you that their only comment has been to ask when the sequel will be released (soon, grasshopper, soon).
The Brilliant World of Tom Gates is published in Canada by Scholastic, and a copy was sent to me in exchange for an honest review. It may be purchased via Scholastic, Indigo, Amazon and your favourite independent bookstore. ISBN 978-1-4431-1936-8, 265 pages.