Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

The Big Book of Old Tom

old tomOVERALL: 3.5 3.5 Stars

Concept:4 Stars
Characters:4 Stars
Plot:3 Stars
Writing:3 Stars
Leigh Hobbs
Leigh Hobbs
Abrams Books

Description: Old Tom is a large, ugly tom cat that only a mother could love and lucky for Tom he has Angela Throgmorton who, despite sometimes being completely fed up with Tom’s untidiness and pranks, loves him unconditionally. Angela and Tom’s relationship is a parody of the relationship between a mother and her son and the way Leigh Hobbs portrays this relationship is often touching and remarkably genuine. Plus, it is very funny. Especially if you are a young child.

Concept: The way I came to read this book is that my daughter, who was 7 at the time, chose to buy it from a bookshop in the city after she had been given a book voucher for her birthday. She could have chosen any book in the store, but she chose that one. As I eyed the picture of an ugly cat holding a dead fish on the cover and flipped through the textually sparse pages, I tried very hard to wipe any sign of disapproval off my face. This was HER choice after all, even though inside I was screaming “Why!? Out of all these lovely books, why?!” With a painted grin, I managed to squeak out a question of that nature and she replied, “Because it’s funny Mum. And easy to read. I like the pictures and the story.” And really, who can argue with that? And so here I am reading it for myself and although I don’t think that I find it quite as funny as a 7 year old, I can definitely understand it’s appeal and why so many children love it. On further reflection I can also now appreciate the many subtle and not so subtle messages throughout and that the visual stimuli of the pictures work together brilliantly with the text.

Characters: All these books are simple and really only feature Tom and Angela. Tom is an ugly, naughty, messy, boy, I mean cat, who goes about his business sometimes barely tolerating his Mum’s, I mean, Angela Throgmorton’s presence. Angela is obsessed with cleaning and making sure Tom is ‘good’ but other than that she doesn’t do a lot, in the same way most kids would view their own Mum’s lives of imply consisting of cleaning and nagging. However what Angela DOES do, and which often goes unnoticed by Tom, is support and love him unconditionally.

Plots: In ‘Old Tom’ the first story, Tom learns to appreciate what he has when he is suddenly banished from the house. In ‘Old Tom goes to the beach’, Tom has a rollicking adventure while Angela sunbathes, oblivious. In ‘Old Tom goes to Mars’ Angela supports Tom on his mission to Mars, whilst in ‘Old Tom’s guide to being good’ he visits the the Queen and finally the story of, ‘A friend for Old Tom’ explores the relationship with Angela a bit more.

The plots are simple but layered and definitely an example of how sometimes the most simple things can have the most meaning.

Writing and Illustration: The illustrations in this book are just black line drawings but they evoke a lot of emotion – and laughs. When I was reading the book for my review, my 6 year old son was peeking over my shoulder and having a giggle at Old Tom ‘master of disguise’ posing as a lamp stand with the shade on his head. Often the pictures tell a different story to the writing which gives the books a funny, wry feel. The language used is simple but not basic and should be just right for a young reader.

PARENTS: It may take your 6 – 9 year old two hands to hold up this book but they will feel like a champion reader as they plough through it. The Big Book of Old Tom is actually made up of 5 Old Tom stories put together as a chapter book. Each page consists mainly of drawings with a sentence or two of text so it is a great book to transition your child from picture books to chapter books and will give your newly independent reader a real sense of achievement.

Things to ask and discuss:

(If you haven’t read the book, don’t worry. Ask these questions anyway and coax the answers and details out. Being able to recount and articulate ideas from text they have read is an important skill for kids to learn and develop. Also, don’t worry if they don’t want to talk about some of the things listed here, it’s ok to just let them talk about the bits they want to. Bottom line is, they will love that you are showing an interest and asking for their opinion, even if they don’t always show it!)

At this age, if you can just get them to recount what they have read in a few simple sentences then that is awesome because it shows that they have understood what they have read. Read the title and talk about what they expect the book will be about. Below are a few more questions you might like to ask to draw out more understanding.

1) Why do you think Angela treats Old Tom like a real boy?

2) Why don’t other people like Old Tom?

3) How did Angela help Old Tom achieve his dream of flying to Mars?

4) Did he actually make it to Mars?

5) Why do you think the Queen liked Old Tom?

6) In the last book, who was Old Tom’s friend?

Come on comment, you know you wanna.

Book Reviews and Writer