Tom Gates: Family, Friends and Furry Creatures by Liz Pichon

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Scholastic Ltd, 2018. Pages: 236.
Genres: Children’s fiction / humour / Approximate Age: 7+
We rate it: 4/5

Buy now from: Waterstones

“Working hard on my school project, I’ve found out ALL kinds of interesting FACTS I wasn’t expecting to.”

The 12th Tom Gates book by Liz Pichon has recently come out in paperback. The fun series of books follows the life of school boy Tom in his adventures with his friends and family.


Our review of Tom Gates: Family, Friends and Furry Creatures by Liz Pichon

Tom’s school project

Family, Friends and Furry Creatures starts with an ordinary school day. Tom is extremely well organised and has created a list of all the “Things I Don’t Want to Do”.

While many of us write down the things we do want to achieve, Tom’s “Things I Don’t Want to Do” list is a novel approach! However, we may well be familiar with Tom’s realisation that:

“Writing a list is the easy bit. Trying to FOLLOW the list is turning out to be a LOT harder than I expected.”

Embarrassing shoes – we’ve all been there!

At the top of Tom’s list is to not wear his usual shoes to school as they are making odd noises. While Tom’s family rush to get ready for the day, this concern is distracting Tom. Tom’s Mum has a plan, suggesting Tom takes his gym shoes in as back up. She writes a note explaining why he would be wearing them (if the squeaking comes back).

As Tom leaves to get to school the reader will notice a clue about how his day will progress. In an illustration we see the note fall out of his bag and his shoes making a loud embarrassing rrrassssp noise…

Tom’s School Project: Family, Friends and Furry Creatures

It’s a big day in class as Tom’s teacher, Mr Fullerman is organising an amazing school project for Open Day. Tom has to contend with his noisy shoe problem. And his competitive classmate Marcus seems to want all of the best and most useful materials for the project, including the really cool patterned tape.

The project is about family trees. While working on his, Tom begins to discover more about his mysterious grandparents who haven’t been around since he was very little. It turns out they have been traveling the world and having adventures for the last seven years.

Could his grandparents be spies? Tom works hard on his project and looks forward to a surprise promised by his Mum. He hopes it is a box of mini caramel wavers that he has noticed on top of the fridge …

Visual story-telling makes this book accessible and fun

The Tom Gates books are great for children who find reading large blocks of text difficult. Liz Pichon’s story-telling style skilfully uses illustrations to drive the plot forward. The story is filled with drawings which are completely integrated into the text.

These illustrate the narrative at every step and turn, making the story really accessible, fun and easy to follow. Children who might otherwise struggle to take on a long story will have fun and progress.

Fun use of illustrations within text

The author really has fun with words and illustrations, for example drawing two eyes over the letters “o” in the word “look”, or drawing the word “shake” in a way that makes the letters appear to visibly shake. This visual writing helps convey the meanings of the written word on the page and supports word recognition.

Great for children with dyslexia

Many children who struggle with reading or who have dyslexia are drawn to and love the Tom Gates series. Liz Pichon has dyslexia herself, and supported her now adult son when he was diagnosed with dyslexia.

Although she didn’t set out to specifically write books aimed at children with dyslexia Pichon kept in mind the kind of very visual style of books that she and her son enjoyed when she starting writing the Tom Gates book series.

Throughout Family, Friends and Furry Creatures, visual clues are helpful signposts. We can see how important the note from Tom’s Mum is because it is frequently highlighted by a box drawn around it.

Despite being very much about everyday life, the plot is fast paced and so readers will keep turning the page to find out what Tom will do next. The only problem I found with the book is that there are not clear enough chapter breaks. This could help create a space to pause and take a breath in the narrative.

However, one of the main reasons children love to keep reading these books, is that they are laugh out loud hilarious.

Over to you

Have your kids enjoyed and had a good laugh reading Family, Friends and Furry Creatures or other Tom Gates books? What are your favourite funny, family and everyday life inspired books for children? Let us know in the comments below.

If you would like to find more great books for children find our book reviews and recommendations here.

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Alex is the kind of parent who wants to discuss the latest hero movie or middle-grade book series on the school run. She grew up on the Lord of the Rings books and has a background in education & publishing. She believes all children & young people can enjoy wonderful story-telling and loves sharing ideas with others.