Michelle Magorian – Goodnight Mr. Tom

23Nov09


This incredibly poignant well written story tackles various important and sensitive topics, some of which are still valid today, despite the book being set around the time of the second World War.

Set in the English countryside, Michelle Magorian tells the story of Willie, a timid little specimen, who is an evacuee from London, and is made to stay with the reticent grumpy Tom Oakley, who Willie calls Mr. Tom.

Mr. Tom is thoroughly unprepared for the scared nervous creature that’s at his doorstep, as he half-expects the evacuee stereotype – the wild ill-mannered children, who cause more chaos than anything else. However, he soon finds out that Will has been continuously abused by his mother, and his small body is covered with sores and bruises. But – the psychological damage surpasses the physical, as Willie cowers at the thought of getting on the wrong side of Mr. Tom, and is petrified of doing anything to annoy him. He also wets his bed, throws up his food, expects absolutely nothing, and tries to shut out the world around him, as his mother has brainwashed him into believing that people will only like him if he’s invisible and quiet.

However, Mr. Tom has demons of his own. Ever since the death of his beloved Rachel and son, he had resigned himself from village activities, and kept to himself, grieving alone. Yet, when Willie walks into his life, unexpectedly, he attempts to change, and provides the young boy with a happy home, almost selflessly. Be it clothes, food, shoes, or spending time narrating stories or organising surprise birthday parties!

A children’s book, there is no surprise that Will (calling someone Willie sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?) overcomes his childhood traumas, makes friends, works hard, and is a talented artist, under the protective loving care of Mr. Tom – the hero. Yet, half way through the book, Will gets a letter from his mother in London, who is ill, and wants him back…

This story will make you laugh, and it will make you cry. You’ll hate the woman that’s Will’s mother, but you’ll wish for more Mr. Toms in this world. You’ll mourn the tragedy of war, but cherish the permanence of friendship, and you’ll come to terms with life not being fair, but, things having a way of working out – eventually.

As a children’s book, this is incredible. Yet, as an adult, I found this book a little too simple, without the raw emotion I’d love to see in a book like this, which could bring it to life. Of course, one can argue that it might not be a book for children then…

Rating: B+

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16 Responses to “Michelle Magorian – Goodnight Mr. Tom”

  1. I remember reading this as a child, but I can’t remember that much about it now – perhaps it is timr for a re-read?

  2. I read this book as a child and loved it – I was a big fan of Michelle Magorian, and especially enjoyed Back Home. I did buy her most recent book Just Henry last year, and I would concur that it was a little simplistic for an adult reader, but I think they are sophisticated reads for children.

    • I haven’t read anything else by Magorian, and while this book doesn’t really drive me to seek out more of her books, I wouldn’t mind reading some more of her writing.

      Think the last sentence just about sums it up.

  3. This was one of my favourite childhood books and I must have read it about 10 times. I think it’s one of the most beautiful, heartrending stories I’ve ever read and it made me cry every time without fail.

    • Wow! I never read it as a child, but I thought it was wonderful as an adult. If I’d read it as a child, I’d probably share the same opinion as you… the part when he goes back to London is heartbreaking.

  4. Oh I do like reading reviews of books I enjoyed as a child. I don’t remember much about this, apart from that it made me cry though. I tried to get my son to read it but he was not interested. No dragons, swords or magic!

    • It’s magical in its own way – guessing that doesn’t work? :)

      Hopefully, he’ll pick it up in his own time, and share the same opinions on the book as you. Going forward, he’ll always listen to you then!

  5. 9 Pam

    We had to read this at school (when I was a small Pam) and I remember it being one of the only compulsory novels I enjoyed!

  6. I haven’t read the book, but I well remember the harrowing version for television…

    The only Michelle Magorian I have read is Back Home. Which I liked, but I think your assessment that while an adult might look for more, they are perfect for children, is spot on.

    • I haven’t seen the television version, and there are some scenes I’d definitely NOT like to see visually. It’s incredibly depressing.

      Hmm, now I wish I’d read more Magorian some ten years back!

  7. I haven’t read this as an adult yet but I remember studying it in grade 9 and bawling my eyes out when I first read it.

    Probably not a book I’d revisit anytime soon, but perhaps one day!

  8. lol @ Pam – have you started it?


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