Liz Pichon, Super Good Skills (Almost…) (Tom Gates #10), Scholastic Australia, 5 May 2016, 256pp., $16.99 ISBN: 9781407157856
Super Good Skills (Almost…) is the 10th book in the very popular Tom Gates series about a mischievous, creative boy who is full of the joys of life. This book contains several accounts of Tom Gates’s antics at school on the last few days of the school term and on the annual family holiday. There are some nasty surprises and disappointments for Tom on his holiday but with his usual indomitable spirit he entertains himself by writing a funny diary, doodling his cartoon drawings and playing pranks on his grumpy teenage sister and her sullen friend.
The book seems to energetically leap from one account of humorous antics to another. The gimmicky text and cartoon drawings as well as Tom’s doodles and designs, interspersed amongst the text, add to the fun-filled, cheerful tone of the book. It has an interactive element with activity pages inviting the reader to contribute their own doodles or creative writing, various instructions for games and craft activities and a quiz.
From an adult perspective I found I didn’t engage well with this book mostly because of the lack of significant plot development. In addition, most of the humour seems quite inane to me although there are a few clever quips and smart witticisms. But I do know that this series is so popular with kids that the books are constantly on loan from the library where I work and can only rarely be found on the library shelves. During one two-hour shift at the library help desk during the holidays I took four enquiries for Tom Gates books. On the fourth enquiry I decided to find out from the young library patron what the appeal of Tom Gates is. The child’s face lit up when I asked her and she told me that he is funny, friendly, and also tricky without being mean. “School would be so much fun with Tom Gates in your class”, she concluded. I would agree with my young interviewee on most accounts other than the issue of his tricks not being mean – Tom’s long suffering teacher and his sister cop a bit of flack.
The content of this book 10th book in the Tom Gates series would appeal to a wide age range of school going children, but especially the 8-11 year olds. I would recommend it as an excellent gift for both boys and girls. It is also certainly a must-have for school and public libraries, but I do have reservations about “activity pages” in a library book.
Reviewed by Barbara Swartz