Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian (Puffin 1981)

Puffin have celebrated the 40th anniversary of this enduring children’s classic by issuing it in a new edition which also contains a story of the young Tom and lyrics Magorian wrote for the musical adaptation.  I had always thought I had read this book before but I hadn’t.  I have also never seen the acclaimed TV version which starred John Thaw.  It was one of those books where my vague ideas about it had cemented into what I believed was fact but I was often wrong.  I knew it was a tearjerker but what I had always thought occurred never actually happens.  The twists and turns of the plot were quite a revelation for me.

Will is sent from Deptford, South London, just before the outbreak of World War II, as an evacuee to the rural environment of Little Weirwold where he is allocated to Tom Oakley, an elderly widower who lives a very self-contained life with his dog Sammy.  Will’s arrival disrupts this but the malnourished, poorly treated Londoner wins Tom over from the start and the youngster begins to thrive under his care.

The country scenes have a direct line to earlier children’s classics such as “The Railway Children” where nothing much happens but it is still a ravishing read.  It’s a boy finding his feet amongst a new environment and new friends and the challenges he faces, a common enough theme in junior fiction but it is when the book reverts to London with a grimness which is shocking compared to what we have read before that it is elevated to another level.  Following this, with the war established in both town and country Magorian pulls no punches and conveys the sense of not knowing what is round the corner brilliantly.  As the war disrupts the lives of those in the country there’s a tension between adapting to the new events and wanting their lives to go on as before.

I loved this book.  I loved the characters and the plot.  I enjoyed the short story “Rachel And The Paintbox” which would be a lovely back-story read for long-standing fans of this book.  The song lyrics were inessential but there again would be appreciated by those who have had this book in their lives for decades.

I cannot believe it has taken me this long to get round to it.  My advice to you is to celebrate its special birthday with me by discovering it for yourself, re-reading it or buying a copy for a younger member of the family.  This is a great read.

Originally published by Kestrel in 1981, the first Puffin paperback edition arrived in 1983 and this edition with the additional material was published in the UK on May 6th 2021. Many thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the review copy.

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