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Since I read an absolutely bumper crop of books on holiday last week, I have managed three chapters of one book this week, due to life battering me about the head and neck with a bit of two by four, and me having to try to organise myself. Very badly.

So I have no new book recommendations to share with you today, but I do have some feedback regarding an old favourite of mine on this blog, the books of Liz Pichon, who writes the perennially popular Tom Gates’ series, published by Scholastic.

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I have been reviewing the Tom Gates’ books, ever since my daughter Tallulah started reading them a while back. I have recommended them to all and sundry as a much more palatable alternative to the frankly awful, Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney.

My eight year old son, Oscar, started reading the series over half term and in the space of just over a week is now on the fifth book. He is quite literally eating them up.

The first book is called: ‘The Brilliant World of Tom Gates’. In total there are seven books to date, as well as a World Book Day short book/story, and an annual.

It is a joy to watch Oscar read them. He carries the books around the house, is totally engrossed in them at meal times, and never complains when he has to read to me for homework, as his school library book is also one of the Tom Gates’ books.

He has also taken to quoting sections of book at anyone who will stand still to listen long enough, and bringing over humorous illustrations which he laboriously explains with shiny faced enthusiasm.

His reaction to them, and the way he has learned to read them to me has been such a positive experience that I thought I would reiterate some of the points I have made about them in previous reviews.

My point about the books being brilliant for transitional readers – those children who are technically ready for longer books than picture books and reading scheme books, but who may not yet have the stamina for full on novels, is borne out by how much Oscar is enjoying them.

He particularly likes the fact that as there are not too many words on a page he can make decent headway with the book every night.

We are required to write down how many pages he has read in his reading journal, and he loves the fact that some nights he reads forty or fifty pages to me. This sort of number is seriously impressive to a child. (On average there are less than 100 words per page, so forty or fifty pages takes no time at all).

He loves all the visual jokes in the book; the illustrations and asides, the different fonts, the way the words sometimes move across the page to reflect how the person is speaking. All of these things both entertain him and also give him clues as to how to read the book with more feeling. There is a requirement that children read with expression, and the way the books are set out certainly helps you to explore how to do that with a child.

Every book has little tips or tricks as to how the reader can either create a type of doodle, or play a practical joke, or make pictures in their breakfast toast. Oscar loves these. One of the books shows you how to turn a scrawl or scribble into a doodle, and Oscar spent happy hours on holiday turning artful scribbles into robots and monsters.

The jokes are gentle and funny, and not only does Oscar get them, he also finds them funny, and then spends ages explaining them to us. We’re not so keen on the explaining bit, but we humour him, because it shows he is figuring out how jokes work, and that’s quite sophisticated decoding and understanding for a child to do.

One of the things I didn’t point out before, as being a benefit, but which seems to be from Oscar’s point of view is that Tom Gates is English. Oscar enjoys Wimpy Kid, but he can’t related to Gregg and what Gregg experiences in the same way as he can to Tom. He enjoys the humour of the Wimpy Kid books, and he loves the otherness of them, but he is way more immersed in the world of Tom Gates, because it is something he can truly identify with. Tom is a boy like him, in a school like him, talking and behaving like him, and having interests and experiences that mirror his own. Oscar can be part of Tom’s gang in his head, and that feeling of inclusion into a fictional world is having a very powerful and positive effect on him.

If you’re looking for something to replace Wimpy Kid and you haven’t tried Tom Gates yet, I heartily recommend you give him a go. If you’re looking for a good transitional book for a reader, particularly a boy, although all the girls I know who’ve read these love them too, this could work for you.

There is also a website which has activities, online games, competitions and more things to make and do. It’s a great resource for Tom Gates obsessed children. You can access the website by clicking on the link here.

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