Monday, 16 March 2015

Goodnight Mister Tom

Goodnight Mister Tom has been at the top of my TBR pile for ages and having found a beautiful vintage copy it seemed only sensible to read and blog about it before offering it for sale.

A report in The Guardian newspaper on the 25th March 1982 described it thus:

For the first time since Watership Down, a first novel has won the Guardian Award for Children's Fiction. Goodnight Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian, is everyone's idea of a smash- hit first novel: nostalgic but skirting sentimentality, full-blown characters to love and hate, moments of grief and joy, horror and serenity, compassionate, sensitive and a marvellous story that knows just how to grab the emotions.    They were not wrong!


London during the Blitz.

In September 1939 as Britain stands on the brink of World War II, an eight-year-old boy beaten and starved into stunned apathy by his mother is billeted as an evacuee with Tom Oakley in the village of Little Weirwold. Tom is a sad, reclusive widower whose wife and baby died 40 years previously. William "Willy" Beech is thinly clad, underfed and covered with bruises. Tom takes him under his wing, and William soon begins to thrive. 

Evacuee children grouped together to be taken away from the danger zones. 

As I read about the growing bond between William and Tom, I just knew something would happen to spoil things and lo and behold six months into the relationship William's mother calls him back to London.

When he arrives, William is surprised to learn his mother has given birth to a baby girl.  He is happy to help his mother, but she is angry when she hears about his time with Tom. In a fit of temper, she hits him around the head and renders him unconscious. When he regains consciousness, he has been stripped down to his underwear, his ankle is broken, and he is chained to a pipe in the understairs cupboard. The baby is on his lap.


Blitz on Westminster.

Back in Little Weirwold, Tom grows increasingly worried and after several sleepless nights, he becomes convinced William is in trouble. He travels to London and eventually locates the house where William and his mother are living, but it appears to be abandoned. A policeman is called and after some persuasion agrees to break down the door.  Together they discover William, beaten, sick and clinging to his dead infant sister. His mother is nowhere to be seen.


This may sound like a depressing read, and indeed parts of it are upsetting but in spite of that I found it totally absorbing. I'm sure the story will live with me for a very long time, so I'm pleased to say it does have a happy ending.


Goodnight Mister Tom is a novel by the English author Michelle Magorian. The copy I have in stock was published by Kestrel in 1982 a few months after the first edition.

Winner of the Guardian Award for Children's Fiction, 1982. Highly commended, the Carnegie Medal 1982. International Reading Association Award 1982. Runner-up for The Young Observer Prize 1982 and Western Australian Young Readers Book Award 1982. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 49 on the BBC's The Big Read. At the 2010 Hay festival Goodnight Mister Tom was voted Favourite Puffin Title Of All Time.

The novel has been twice adapted as a musical, once as a play and once as a film, Goodnight Mister Tom (1998). The most recent theatrical adaptation won the Laurence Oliver Award for Best Entertainment. 

Have you read Goodnight Mr. Tom? Did you enjoy it?


Thanks for your visit...

37 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post, Barbara. Everytime I think about this novel, it brings tears to my eyes, and yet it is a book about hope. Have you seen the film with John Thaw? I thought it captured the spirit of the novel so well.

    I've often wondered how many of those evacuated kids went from good homes to bad or from bad homes to ones where they were loved. I suppose we'll never know.

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    1. Thank you so much Alex! I’ve not watched the film simply because I wanted to read the book first, but there will be no stopping me now.

      I don’t know anyone who was evacuated or looked after evacuees, but if I did I would ask them. My parents reluctantly housed two prisoners of war who ended up as friends. I don’t remember them because I was born after the war, but I do remember the stories about them.

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  2. Hello Barbara,
    I admire your talent for making all manner of subjects interesting, this is yet another example.
    To answer your question, no, I have not read the story but have seen the film.

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    1. Hello John, you do say the nicest things, thank you. The film was on TV a while ago, but I was determined to read the book first. I like John Thaw so must see if I can catch it soon.

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  3. Despite some tears I ultimately found to be a really uplifting read.

    One of those books that adapted really well to the small screen. It is very often that I think a tv dramatisation as good as the novel.

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    1. That’s worth knowing Tracy, I will definitely be watching it asap.

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  4. This is on my list of books to buy once I've read a few more from my existing stacks, and it's one I am looking forward to. Lovely to read your post about it.

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    1. Hi Lindsay, it was on my ‘must read’ list for ages. It’s off that list now, but I’m sure I will read it again someday.

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  5. I didn't know this was a book! I remember watching the TV adaptation starring John Thaw.

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    1. Hi Nikki-ann, I haven’t watched it yet. I hope it is as good as the book.

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  6. One of those rare occurrences where the book and film are both wonderful! I haven't seen the musical or the play, though. The only other one that comes to mind is War Horse.

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    1. Hi Sue, that’s reassuring. When I’ve really enjoyed a book, I’m always afraid the film will be a let down. Happy to hear that’s not the case this time.

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  7. Oh my, this book sounds very good but a bit sad. Some of the evacuees came to Canada, loved it so much they immigrated after the war as adults. I do know one man who was in my writing group who was an evacuee in England. He said he was placed in a good home in the country but missed his parents. I haven´t seen the movie but will look out for it.

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    1. Hello Darlene, Canada must have been like paradise to some of those young evacuees, no wonder they went back after the war. My parents played host to a couple of German prisoners of war, but I wasn’t born so don’t remember them. I do remember my parents talking about it though. I think they were all rather afraid of each other at the start but soon became friends. I remember by father saying they were just lads a long way from home.

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  8. Sounds like great book adapted into a musical. Thanks for the reminder. Will get it now.

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    1. Hi Kelly, I’m sure you will enjoy it. Barbara.

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  9. Dear Barbara, when I read your post I immediately went and saw the film which itv had televised recently . I had missed it but since you can still see the past programmes I thought I would look at it later but then forgot about it. So when you mentioned it I took my iPad to the comfort of my bed and watched it. John Thaw played the role of Mister Tom in this version. Haven't seen the musical or read the book but this film was quiet a good one. The book sounds even better. I find that books seem to be always better than the films.

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  10. Barbara Just thought I'd let you know that it was televised on the 22nd of February so you better go and watch it in the next few days as they will soon take it off.

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    1. Thanks so much Shashi, I will go and look for it this evening. You don’t say the film was wonderful just good, so I’m hoping I won’t be disappointed. I’m wavering a bit now as I enjoyed the book so much and don’t want to ‘spoil’ it. I shall have a look at the film, and if I enjoy the first part I will keep watching. Did you see the way I sort of talked myself out of and back into watching it? I was thinking as I typed! Thanks again, Barbara.

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  11. I have never heard of this book. It does sound very sad. I think it will break my heart a little bit because of the things mentioned, but it does sound worth the read. I didn't know there was a movie or musicals either. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hello Stephanie, it is sad, but it does have a happy ending. In many ways, the war was a good thing for Willie as he thrived in the country, and it got him away from an unstable mother. It would have been a much easier read had his mother been a nicer person, but it wouldn't have been so gripping.

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  12. Good morning my friend! I am a bit late with the work week having caught me by surprise after such a stunning weekend of sun and warmth!

    I have never heard of this story, and thanks to you, there are so many wonderful publications that I am now aware of and would love to search out. I love the opening article from the Guardian that describes this work: "Goodnight Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian, is everyone's idea of a smash- hit first novel: nostalgic but skirting sentimentality..." - "skirting sentimentality" is something I need to think about. I am in the process of turning my blog content into a published book, and one of my best poetry teachers, (who happens to be British) often talked about avoiding sentimentality (or being TWEE) as she put it....and I still need to figure out who to avoid it in a undesirable way!

    It is always wonderful to see you post. I hope you are well! Anita

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    1. Hello Anita, I’m sure you are soaking up as much of that sun and warmth as you possibly can – what a shame the weekends aren't longer!

      I've always understood twee to be something sweet, almost to the point of being sickeningly so. It’s funny but when I hear that word I always think of a rather plump middle-aged lady in a pleated skirt, hat and flat shoes all in shades of brown! Have you noticed how some words have the ability to paint a picture that is not necessarily the correct one?

      I don’t think you have anything to worry about; nothing you do is ever overly sentimental or twee – in fact, just the opposite. When I think of you, I picture a sophisticated and warm person who writes about beautiful things - beautifully!
      Much love, Barbara

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  13. Barbara sorry did I give some negative sounding comments? I think you should watch it. Because it is a film mainly for children so one cannot be disappointed. The two main characters did a wonderful job. I have not read the book so I cannot compare it. But when you read a story your imagination usually is much better than a movie.

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    1. Not at all Shashi, your comment was really helpful. I’m just a bit concerned about watching it and being disappointed. I’m in love with the book at the moment :-) Thanks so much for commenting, Barbara.

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  14. I've not read this book (must add it to list) but did see the film withjohn Thaw, which was wonderful! x

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    1. Hi Suzy, it’s nice to know so many people have enjoyed the film. I'm intending to watch it in the next couple of days. x

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  15. Sadly, I'd never heard of it until now! Thank you Barbara for sharing these wonderful stories! Thank you for visiting my blog, we are still in the ugly part of spring here, nothing blooming as of yet, but soon!

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    1. I’m sure spring is just around the corner for you Diane and what a treat that will be after the winter you’ve had. It's lovely here, sunshine and flowers (two of my favourite things). Thanks for calling, Barbara.

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  16. I haven't read it but it must be on my to-read list. Glad you have and that you enjoyed it this much, Barbara! It does sound like an intense and sad story. A reminder for me to go get a copy already. Have a wonderful weekend ahead. xoxo C.

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    1. I couldn’t put it down, loved, loved, loved it – but then I am a big softie! Thank you for the weekend wishes. I wish the same for you. Barbara xx

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  17. If you are saying it to be a good book which is going to stay with you for a long time , I am sure its is just what you say it it to be .
    Yes ,the story does seem depressing with the dead infant and such a cruel mother, but , as YOU are so touched by it, its in my MUST READ books .
    Somehow I have to read it ....

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    1. Hello Kokila, I really enjoyed it and having read two more books since I still remember almost every word. It’s not often a book stays with me, but this one has. It’s sad, and some parts of it are difficult to read but beautiful too. I hope you find a copy and enjoy it, and you must let me know what you think of it.

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    2. Hello Barbara !
      I have found it on Flipkart but have to wait to order it for some reasons ... You'll be the first to know when i'll read it !
      Thanks for the share dear ..
      love and cheers :)

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    3. I’m sure it will be worth the wait Kokila – enjoy! Barbara x

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  18. I have never read the book but seen the film a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly John Thaw's Mr Tom. It was upsetting seeing the incidence of William in London. Your description is so much like I remember the film, so I imagine the film mirrors the book pretty well. I might look out for it sometime.

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    1. It's well worth a read Anne Marie, so I’m sure you would enjoy it. Thanks for your visit.

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I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara xx

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