The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by L.Pichon

Tom Gates is the master of excuses for late homework: dog attacks, spilt water, lightening … Tom’s exercise book is full of his doodles, cartoons and thoughts, as well as comments from his long-suffering teacher, Mr Fullerton. After gaining five merits for his ‘Camping Sucks’ holiday story, Tom’s work starts to go downhill, which is a pity, as he’s desperate to impress Amy Porter, who sits next to him …

tom gates

We are always looking for Diary of a Wimpy Kid read-alikes, and The Brilliant World of Tom Gates does not disappoint.  Winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, this book is also written in diary format and includes illustrations, drawings, and different typesetting and fonts.   Although some children may not understand some of the British terms used, Pichon includes a handy glossary to explain words like biscuits, bonkers and dodgy.

Rather than focus on his ‘merits’, Tom spends much of his time thinking about his band and doodling.  To cover this up, he comes up with clever and creative excuses for why his homework isn’t done, like a leaking pen or dog drool.   I can practically hear young readers cracking up!  Personally, I had to laugh at Tom’s reference to his grandparents as ‘the fossils’ and his grandma’s very strange food combinations like a banana on a pizza!

The one issue I had was with Tom’s treatment of Marcus. I’m not sure what Marcus ever did to deserve being constantly teased. Tom writes ‘I’m an idiot’ on Marcus’ self-portrait and embarrasses him in front of the whole school.  Tom even puts temporary tattoos on Marcus’s face when he’s sleeping.  I felt bad for Marcus, and think Pichon didn’t have to include this form of bullying to obtain laughs.

Overall, a great funny and quick read for 7-12 year olds, especially reluctant readers.  The ‘Tom Gates’ series continues with Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff).

Picture Me Gone by Meg Rosoff

Mila has an exceptional talent for reading a room—sensing hidden facts and unspoken emotions from clues that others overlook. So when her father’s best friend, Matthew, goes missing from his upstate New York home, Mila and her beloved father travel from London to find him. She collects information about Matthew from his belongings, from his wife and baby, from the dog he left behind and from the ghosts of his past—slowly piecing together the story everyone else has missed. But just when she’s closest to solving the mystery, a shocking betrayal calls into question her trust in the one person she thought she could read best.

picture
After taking time to get accustomed to the dialogue and lack of quotation marks, Picture Me Gone was an okay read.  Some passages I had to re-read to fully grasp if twelve year old Mila was in conversation or observation.   Her ‘voice’ was also problematic as it read way higher than her age.  Yes, she is inquisitive, smart, and perceptive but I still found her voice off.
Despite her maturity, I’m still not sure why her father, Gil would take Mila to help unravel the mystery of Matthew’s disappearance.  Matthew is an unlikable and depressed adult in a complicated mess.  So why expose a child to that?  Not only does Gil deceive Mila, but he allowed her to believe there was a mystery to be solved.  When the ‘mystery’ is revealed, readers are left hanging. There is no resolution and we are left to wonder what happened to Matthew.
Overall, Picture Me Gone was a quiet, contemporary, sad mystery. Not only was the character of Matthew sad, but I felt sad reading Mila’s childhood innocence slowly disappear as she learns about the mistakes and regrets many adults carry.  I just hope her exposure to such heavy matters don’t affect her future relationships negatively.

Picture Me Gone is a National Book Award Nominee for Young People’s Literature (2013).

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