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A day in the life of the Gaskitts
The Man Who Wore All His Clothes - Allan Ahlberg
Member Name: CarolineR-D
The Man Who Wore All His Clothes - Allan Ahlberg
Advantages: Imaginative, quirky, fast paced
Disadvantages: May be a bit long for some children
Allan Ahlberg sparks the reader's curiosity from the outset. Nobody is going to want to stop reading until they have found out why Mr Gaskitt is wearing all his clothes and that means reading through to the end. It's therefore a great book for spurring on reluctant young readers by keeping them guessing. If children are really observant, they may be able to pick up some clues along the way.
Meanwhile, Mrs Gaskitt gives a lift in her taxi to a man who turns out to be a bank robber. The Gaskitt twins, Gus and Gloria witness their teacher fall off a ladder at school and then get lumbered with an eccentric supply teacher called Mr Blotter. As for Horace the family cat, he spends a day at a feline friend's house watching TV. It quickly becomes apparent that the Gaskitts are a rather quirky bunch and that life is not going to be dull when they are around.
The narrative moves swiftly along, presenting quick snapshots of what is happening in the lives of the various Gaskitt family members on the day in question. One minute we are focussing on Mr Gaskitt, then we switch to Mrs Gaskitt, then to the twins, then to Horace. At first there are four separate stories going on simultaneously, but eventually these stories start to merge together, culminating in an exciting and amusing, high-speed chase to catch the robber. Which of the Gaskitts will save the day?
True to form, Allan Ahlberg has delivered a creative, unpredictable and slightly crazy story for children. What I particularly love is that, as in another favourite of mine, The Runaway Dinner, Ahlberg turns inanimate objects into characters in the story. The Car Radio, for instance, is a key character in the story. It is particularly chatty but has a habit of getting things badly wrong. Watch out for the refrigerator and the traffic lights too and my favourite of all - the lorry loaded with Christmas trees that yells - "STAND CLEAR! I AM REVERSING! BEEP, BEEP!" - and then, when it is lying on its side, blocking the road - "I AM TERRIBLY SORRY!"
I love books like this because they push the boundaries of the imagination. Why shouldn't you have a talking lorry or a refrigerator that can spell? Anything is possible in fiction. It inspires children to be creative and to think 'outside the box' in their own projects.
I think this book is most suitable for children aged 6 to 8 years. At 77 pages it is quite long for a children's book, but there are illustrations on each page. Also the print is quite large and well-spaced out, so it does not look too daunting on the page. Although I do miss the illustrations of Allan Ahlberg's late wife, Janet, I can't fault Katharine McEwen's pictures either. They are colourful, clear and expressive and complement the text perfectly. The book is divided into 11 short chapters. I think the use of chapters works well because it makes children feel that they are reading a more grown-up book, which is good for building confidence.
The language is not complex. Allan Ahlberg uses repetition - "The children couldn't catch him......The police couldn't catch him.....Mrs Gaskitt couldn't catch him", etc. - which is helpful to young readers as they start to spot patterns in sentence structure. I also think this book provides a good opportunity for children to expand their core vocabularies. For example, they can learn a lot of different clothing words and a lot of different transport words from this book.
The book reminded me of Allan Ahlberg's much-loved classic, Burglar Bill. Just as Burglar Bill is a comic burglar who steals cakes and tins of beans, the robber in this book is a comic villain too. I think adults would love reading this to their children because it is such a great spoof on real crime. There is a wonderful moment where the robber is chased in and out of a supermarket, up and down escalators, into lifts and into a pizza parlour, where he grabs a deep pan extra pepperoni pizza as he goes. A bank robber munching on pizza as he is trying to make his getaway is as ridiculous as Burglar Bill selling his house and giving the money to the Police Benevolent Fund. If only real life was as innocent as this - but at least with stories like this, we can pretend for a short time that it is.
Horace the cat deserves a paragraph all of his own. Sometimes we see him walking around on all fours like a normal cat, but at other times he takes on distinctly human traits. In one picture we see him sitting up in the arm chair, drinking from a glass with a straw. It's the combination of cat traits and human traits that makes Horace so endearing. We see him watching a food ad for Crunchy Mice and we also see him getting his hankie out when he is watching a sad old movie. In true cat style, Horace thinks that the rest of the family live in his house.
There are lots of twists and turns in this adventure and lots of opportunities for an adult, reading the book aloud to children, to invite them to think what might happen next. For example, when we first meet Mrs Gaskitt's gruff-voiced passenger and she asks him where he wants to go, he replies, "As far away as possible." Many children will be able to spot that there is something a bit dodgy about him. What might he have in that enormous bag that he is carrying? What will happen when the robber hitches a lift on the school bus? Of course, part of the fun is that sometimes your guess will be wrong and events take a totally unexpected course.
There are plenty of surprises. Children can also have lots of fun spotting the things that the dozy Car Radio gets so blatantly wrong. For example, when the Radio reports - "THE ROBBER IS HIDING AWAY IN HIS SECRET DEN EATING EGG, CHIPS AND BEANS", children who are following the story know that this could not be further from the truth.
Without doubt this is a warm, feel-good story. It's about a family being heroic for a day and then just reverting to normality. In the real world where have-a-go heroes are likely to get stabbed to death, it's rather touching to see the Gaskitts watching a movie and eating popcorn together on the sofa at the end of their dramatic day. Unrealistic? Misleading? Maybe, but we all need escapism and the book is a nice reminder that heroes are to be find amongst ordinary people.
It's nice to see the family working together as a team to catch the bank robber and, although most young readers won't have experienced such a thing, they can probably think of plenty of examples where family members have to support each other and not just think of their individual interests. So although it isn't a book with a preachy moral message, it certainly invites discussion on such topics as public spirited behaviour, family loyalties, pro-social and antisocial behaviour etc.
This is a delightful book and I would certainly recommend it. It is the first in a series of books about The Gaskitts. Used copies are available from Amazon for a mere £0.01. If the Gaskitts prove a hit, other books in the series include The Woman Who Won Things, The Children who Smelled a Rat and The Cat Who Got Carried Away. You will end up wishing this family could move in next door to you.
Summary: Another great children's book from Allan Ahlberg