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Goodnight Mister Tom

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Wikipedia article

'Goodnight Mister Tom' is a children's novel by Michelle Magorian, published by Kestrel in 1981. Set in England during World War II, it features a boy abused at home in London who is evacuated to the country during the Battle of Britain. In the care of Mister Tom, an elderly recluse, he experiences a new life of loving and care.

Magorian and Mister Tom won the annual Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime award judged by a panel of British children's writers. She was also a commended runner up for the Carnegie Medal from the British librarians, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject.

The novel has been twice adapted as a musical and once as a film, 'Goodnight Mister Tom' (1998). A new adaptation as a play by David Wood opened early in 2011.

Harper & Row published a U.S. edition within the calendar year.


In September 1939, as Britain stands on the edge of World War II, many young children from the cities are sent into the countryside to escape the German bombardment. William "Willie" Beech, a boy from London who is physically and emotionally abused by his mother,

arrives at the home of Mr. Thomas Oakley, a widower in his sixties who lives in the village of Little Weirwold. The boy is thinly clad, underfed and covered with painful bruises, and believing he is full of sin, a result of his upbringing by his mother.

Mr. Tom is reclusive and bad-tempered, and as such is avoided by the community. Willie lives with him as his Mother wants him to live with someone who is either very religious or lives next to a Church. Though initially distant, after discovering William's home-life he treats him with kindness and understanding and helps to educate him. Under his care, William begins to progress, forming a small circle of friends at school among his classmates including fellow-evacuee Zach. He also becomes proficient in drawing and dramatics.

As William is changed by Mr. Tom, so is Mr. Tom transformed by William's presence in his home. It is revealed that Mr. Tom lost his wife and baby son to scarletina some 40 years previously, and he has become reclusive because of this.

The growing bond between William and Mr. Tom is upset when William's mother requests that the boy return to her in the city, telling him she is sick. At first, William thinks this will be a good thing, so he can be helpful to his mother. However his mother is not pleased to learn the details of his time with Mr. Tom, feeling that he has not been disciplined properly. While William has been away, she has become pregnant and had a girl, but is neglecting the baby. After a bad reunion where his mother becomes furious upon learning the details of her son's life with Mr. Tom, believing he has not been disciplined properly and abhorring his association with the Jewish Zach, she throws William against a bookcase, knocking him out. She then ties and gags him and locks him, with the baby, in a cupboard under the stairs.

Back in Little Weirwold, Mr. Tom has a premonition that something is not right with William. Although he has never travelled beyond his immediate locality, he ventures into London and, with luck, locates William's neighbourhood of Deptford and eventually his home. He persuades a local policeman to break down the door of the apparently empty home, and finds William in the closet holding his dead half-sister. William is malnourished and badly bruised as he had been locked under the stairs for a number of days. William is hospitalised, but whilst there suffers horrific nightmares and is drugged to prevent his screams from disturbing the other children. Mr. Tom is warned that it is likely that William will be taken to a children's home, and, unable to observe William's distress any longer, kidnaps him from the hospital and takes him back to Little Weirwold.

Back with Mr. Tom, William is much damaged by his ordeal, blaming himself for the death of his sister when he had not been provided enough milk to feed her whilst locked away, and becomes very depressed. Later, when his favourite teacher Annie Hartridge has a baby, William is shocked to learn from Zach that a woman cannot conceive a child on her own, and realises that his mother was having a relationship with a man, even though she had previously told him that it was wrong for unmarried couples to live together or have children together.

Mr. Tom is traced by the authorities, who have come to tell William that his mother has committed suicide and offer him a place in a children's home, as they've been unable to trace any other relatives who may have been able to take care of him. Luckily the authorities realise that William has already found a good home and allow Mr. Tom to adopt him.

Mr. Tom, William and Zach enjoy a holiday at the seaside village of Salmouth, where they stay in the house of a widow whose sons have been sent out to war.
Zach then receives news that his father has been injured by a Luftwaffe bomb in London and he hurries home on the next train saying farewell to all his friends. This is the last time they hear from him. William later learns that Zach has been killed and is grief-stricken for some time. Eventually, Doctor Little, the village doctor, who was Zach's guardian while he was evacuated, gives William Zach's bike. Through learning to ride it, William realises that Zach lives on inside him.

In the ending scene William finally learns to ride Zach's bike down a steep hill and sees Mr. Tom waiting for him. They both embrace and William, happily, calls him Dad.


Highly Commended, The Carnegie Medal 1982

The Guardian Fiction Award 1982

International Reading Association Award 1982

Runner-up for The Young Observer Prize 1982

Western Australian Young Readers Book Award 1982

National TV Awards 1999: Best Drama

BAFTA 1999: Lew Grade Award for Most Popular Television Programme of 1998

Television & Radio Industries Club Award 1999: Best ITV/Channel 5 Programme of 1998

See also



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