I think I read this book a few times in primary school, but I didn’t have many memories of it apart from finding it quite emotional, so I thought I’d try it again, given it’s part of my 100 book reading challenge poster that my sister bought me.
Despite it being more than 20 years later, I still found this book highly emotional, it’s impossible not to find an instant bond with young Willie as he arrives in the countryside from London, evacuated during the war.
You immediately know that he’s a poor neglected boy and all you want to do is wrap him up and take care of him, how could a sentence like this not break your heart?!
“He was such a bad boy, he knew that. Mum said she was kinder to him than most mothers. She only gave him soft beatings. He shuddered. “
It seems like Tom might not be the best fit to take of Willie; he’s grumpy and stern and not what it feels like Willie needs. And the other people in the village think so too:
“Miss Thorne said no more. Poor boy, she thought, away from his home and now dumped with an irritable old man.”
But very quickly Mister Tom comes out of his shell and we start to see Willie flourish under Tom’s gentle care and growing love. As it turns out, Tom wasn’t the grumpy old man that everyone thought he was, he was just living under a cloud of grief that he couldn’t get out of.
The first time that Tom and Willie said they loved each other, I properly started crying, it was such a lovely moment.
While it sounds like it might be a bit sweet and sickly, the book is not without it’s turbulent times and tricky parts to read – I’d forgotten a lot from first reading as a child and it took me by surprise.
For anyone who dismisses children’s books as being easy or not worth bothering, I’d argue strongly against that. You can take so much more from reading a children’s book as an adult than you did as a child, and going back to a childhood favourite is never a bad thing.
“It occurred to him that strength was quite different from toughness and that being vulnerable wasn’t the same as being weak”