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Tom Gates: Yes, No, Maybe… is the eighth book in the Tom Gates series and cements the seemingly unstoppable reign of Liz Pichon as diarist author supremo for the primary school generation. Tom Gates, for those few of you left in the universe who might not know about him, is Pichon’s creation and British rival to Jeff Kinney’s, Gregg Heffley (Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

I have, I believe, reviewed all of the previous seven volumes of Tom’s adventures here on Making them Readers. Feel free to dig them out if you are suitably intrigued.

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Where Gregg is selfish and manipulative and spends a great deal of time justifying why his behaviour isn’t selfish and manipulative, and the rest of his time moaning about how unfair the world is, Tom is a much less morally grating figure (in my opinion, most children I know seem to love Wimpy Kid equally).

Tom is still rather selfish and manipulative, but seems to behave with a certain joie de vivre that I find lacking in Gregg Heffley’s behaviour. It helps, I think, that Tom has a little humility and is also mischievous rather than whiny. Where Gregg’s family and friends are often depicted as the enemy who thwart his desires, Tom seems to have a much healthier relationship with his friends and family, including his arch enemy, Marcus. The books are light-hearted, fun, and funny, and Pichon’s illustrations are miles ahead when it comes to any competition with Kinney.

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In this book there is everything you come to expect from a Tom Gates’ book. There are lots and lots of hand drawn illustrations, swirly writing, annotated drawings in the margins etc. There is still very little actual story/text, but there are a lot of jokes, ideas and general messing about to compensate. The actual story, if presented in a regular novel size, would probably only take up about a chapter’s worth of space. This is not a criticism by the way, merely an observation, and explains why children devour these books in such a short space of time. One of the nice things is that they often re-read the books over and over again, which is lovely to see.

There are always things to do in the Tom Gates’ books. There are often tips, ideas and techniques for drawing things, but in the last few books there have been makes as well. In this book, you can learn how to make a superhero/comic wallet/folder. You also see how Tom makes robots out of people’s names when he doodles, and how to do expressive drawing/doodling.

Everything about Tom makes him accessible for the child reader, which is one of the reasons the books are so popular. Children can imagine themselves being Tom and doing the things Tom does. In a very odd sort of way these stories remind me of books like the Milly Molly Mandy or My Naughty Little Sister books from my childhood, which were pretty old fashioned even then. They have the charm of recounting the ordinary experiences of a child, ones the reader can relate to, and which are achievable and realistic, but which are sprinkled with a bit of story telling magic, and therefore much more appealing to the reader.

The story, such as it is, tells about Tom’s experiences at Business Day at school, raising money for charity. It also develops Tom’s home life with Tom’s mum wanting to clear out the house and go to a car boot sale, where Tom and his dad make a mistake which could ruin Tom’s mum’s birthday if they don’t put it right before the end of the book. There is less mention of Tom’s band, Dog Zombies in this book, although if you’re pining for them, the end pages have cartoon strips of the actual Dog Zombies for you.

The book is more of the same for Tom’s myriad fans. I can’t see Pichon biting the hand that feeds when the books are so universally adored. I don’t know a single child who doesn’t love Tom Gates, and the books fly off the shelves at school. They’re permanently on loan. I was third in line to read this after Oscar and even Tallulah, my twelve year old, who is permanently glued to Jacqueline Wilson novels took time out to read it.

The Tom Gates’ books are perfect for independent readers aged six to twelve, both boys and girls. Scholastic, who publish the books, also have a fantastic Tom Gates blog and website which you can access here, which provides lots of activities and ideas in the inimitable Tom Gates’ style.

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