On resilient readers

The last time I read Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorin I was twelve years old, and reading it for class. I remember enjoying reading it – I remember thinking that finally I was reading a book for school that I actually liked. Reading it now, I stumble across sentences underlined, and notes that I jotted down to go into the essay I undoubtedly had to write about the book. I don’t know why I never reread it until now. Perhaps, even though I did like it at the time, Goodnight Mister Tom did have a slight taint of school on it.

goodnight mister tomI enjoyed reading it again, over ten years later, but found it much harder to read than when I was twelve. You see, Goodnight Mister Tom is quite a sad book. Set at the breakout of the Second World War, Tom is unwillingly given a evacuee from London to look after, and finds that the evacuee, William, is small, underfed, cannot read or write, and generally has been rather under loved for all of his life. Grumpy Tom, despite himself, starts looking after the boy, giving him the home that he should have always had. That is, until his mother wants him back in London.

I won’t ruin the book (but you should definitely read it) but there are several quite shocking parts of the book. I cried a little bit too much, and felt very attached to Tom and poor Will. I found Will’s story to be rather upsetting. More upsetting than when I was a child, and I wondered about that. Was I less feeling as a twelve year old, did I care less about the plight of Will, or did I not really understand what was going on?

Terrible things can happen in children’s books. People die, people are unloved, people are separated from the things and people that they love. But I think that children sometimes cope better with this than adults reading these books. It may be that they don’t quite understand the extent of the cruelty, or sadness, or unfairness of what is happening, but I don’t think that is why. Children can be very resilient. They have to cope with an awful lot. So perhaps I didn’t cry as much at Goodnight Mister Tom when I was twelve because I had to cope with more when I was that age. Maybe I’ve gone soft with old age.

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4 comments

  1. Pingback: On questioning and contemplating | 1001 Children's Books

  2. Pingback: On where the list of 1001 Children’s Books I Must Read Before I Grow Up (Too Much) comes from | 1001 Children's Books

  3. I saw a stage version of this last year which I found VERY emotional to watch. Was that because I understood all the nuances, because I have children myself, because I’ve worked with vulnerable children, because it wasn’t a book and I couldn’t put it down for a few minutes, or a day, for light relief? It is so interesting to revisit books (in whatever form) at different stages in your life and see what the impact is and where the sympathies lie. If it’s a good piece of writing it will still speak to you, but in a different way.

  4. There are so many books that I read as a child that I can’t re-read easily now because they are too sad. Part of the reason is that now I have more real-life experiences of loss (and fears of loss) than I did back then. That said, I think it depends on the child. I’m re-reading Anne of Green Gables with my twins right now, and they are deeply affected by the “drudgery and poverty and neglect” that Anne experienced in her first 11 years of life. I don’t remember crying as much as they have when I read those books for the first time (I saw it as a happy story!).

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