Book review

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (1981)

Not everybody had a good time as an evacuee during the Second World War, but for eight-year-old Willie Beech, suddenly transferred from a deprived London background into the heart of the country, it is literally a lifeline. Willie is dumped on grumpy old Tom Oakley, the sharp-tongued widower, but he soon finds that Mister Tom is fair and friendly.

What does Mister Tom make of Willie?

The tales he had heard of evacuees didn't seem to fit Willie. 'Ungrateful' and 'wild' were the adjectives he had heard used or just plain 'homesick'. He was quite unprepared for this timid, sickly little specimen.

It all becomes a bit clearer when Tom unpacks the brown paper carrier bag that Willie has brought with him from his unforgiving London home. There are no warm, spare clothes. There is an old Bible and a leather belt to beat him with. Willie is obviously used to being beaten - he is covered in bruises and bleeding sores. He is so malnourished he can't keep a proper meal down, he wets the bed, he can't read or write, and he shivers and trembles a lot.

Willie's needs are clear. And, to the intense interest of the entire village of Little Weirwold, Tom Oakley's stern manner melts slowly away as he takes on the task of raising Willie Beech. It's a voyage of discovery for both of them. Willie learns how it feels to have a proper home and friends, and Tom confronts the grief of bereavement which caused him to withdraw from village life all those years ago, when his young wife and baby son died.

The whole project nearly founders when Willie's mother recalls him to London. Returning reluctantly, Willie faces unspeakable horrors before he is rescued by Tom who comes through an air-raid searching for him.

This book is really a gentle and moving story about the developing relationship of trust and love between Willie and Tom. But it also gives a very clear background picture of life in England during the Second World War, the contrast between life in the country and life in London. Highly recommended.

What can I read next?

Michelle Magorian has written other books too:

  • Back Home
  • In Deep Water

If you are interested in the Second World War you might like to look at this one by Robert Westall:

And if it is Willie's condition which captures your imagination, alienated and abused, perhaps you might enjoy this one by Gillian Cross:

Or you could try this one by David Almond:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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