Goodnight Mister Tom

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Good Night Mr. Tom
Goodnight Mr Tom 1981 book cover.jpg
First edition
AuthorMichelle Magorian
Cover artistAngelo Renaldi
GenreChildren's historical novel
PublisherKestrel Books
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback and paperback)
Pages304 pp (first edition)
LC ClassPZ7.M275 Go 1981[1]

Goodnight Mister Tom is a children's novel by English author Michelle Magorian, published by Kestrel in 1981. Harper & Row published an American edition the same year.[1] Set during World War II, it features a boy abused at home in London who is evacuated to the country at the outbreak of the war. 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 once-or-lifetime Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, judged by a panel of British children's writers.[2] She was also a commended runner-up for the Carnegie Medal from the British librarians, recognising the year's best English-language children's book published in the UK.[3][a]

The novel has been adapted as a stage musical and as the film Goodnight Mister Tom (1998). In 2003, it was listed at #49 on the BBC's survey The Big Read.[4] The most recent theatrical adaptation, Goodnight Mister Tom, won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Entertainment.[5]


The story is set in September 1939, as Britain stands on the brink of the war, many young children from the cities are evacuated to the countryside to escape an imminent German bombardment. William Beech, a boy from Deptford who is physically and emotionally abused by his mother, arrives at the home of Tom 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 believes he is full of sin, a result of his upbringing by his mother, a domineering, insane and god-fearing woman. Willie is also pale, timid and sickly-looking.

"Mister Tom", as William christens his new guardian, is reclusive and bad-tempered, and as such is avoided by the community. Willie is placed with him because his mother wanted him to live with someone who was either religious or lived near a church. Though initially distant, he is touched after discovering William's home-life and treats him with kindness and understanding, helping to educate him. Under his care, William begins to thrive, 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 Tom, so is Tom transformed by William's presence in his home. It is revealed that 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 Tom is threatened when William's mother requests that the boy returns to her in the city, telling him she is sick. At first, William thinks this will be a good thing, as he can be helpful to his mother. However, his mother is not pleased to learn the details of his time with 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 Tom, abhorring his association with the Jewish Zach among other things, she hits William and, accusing him of blasphemy (after he points out that Jesus was a Jew), locks him in the under-stairs cupboard, chaining him to the piping. William regains consciousness briefly to find himself in the cupboard – he has been stripped of his clothes, minus his underwear, and his ankle is twisted. He quietly sobs for Tom, before he falls asleep.

Back in Little Weirwold, 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 eventually locates William's neighbourhood of Deptford and his home. He persuades a local policeman to break down the door of the apparently empty home, to be greeted with a vile stench. They find William in the closet with the baby, who had also been locked under the stairs by William's mother and has now died. 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 simply to prevent his screams from disturbing other children. 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 Mister Tom, William is much damaged by his ordeal and is also blaming himself for the death of his sister as he had not been able to provide 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 (something which society, in general, had regarded as unacceptable at this time). Tom is traced by the authorities, who have come to tell William that his mother is dead, having taken her own life. They also 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. But luckily, the authorities realise that William has already found a good home, and allow Tom to adopt him.

Tom, William and Zach then 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 German bomb in London and he hurries home on the next train saying farewell to all his friends. Unfortunately, this is the last time they see him. William later learns that Zach has been killed and is grief-stricken for some time, but his grief is later healed by another recluse, Geoffrey Sanderton. Geoffrey, a young man who had lost a leg during the war and takes William for private art lessons, recognises the signs of grief and gives William a pipe to paint along with a picture of two smiling young men. One of the men is Geoffrey and he tells William about the loss of his own best friend, the other man in the picture and the owner of the pipe. This is when William starts to come to terms with Zach's death. Adding to this, Doctor Little, the village doctor, who was Zach's guardian while he was evacuated, is surprised but pleased when William asks to have Zach's bike. Through learning to ride it, William realises that Zach lives on inside him and he will never forget his wonderful companion that Zach was.

In the months following, William grows closer to Carrie, one of his friends. One night, on returning home to Tom (whom he now calls "Dad"), he thinks back on how much he has changed since arriving in Little Weirwold and realises that he is growing. And he hasn't forgotten about Zach.


Commended, The Carnegie Medal 1981, 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 Popula f 1998 and Television & Radio Industries Club Award 1999: Best ITV/Channel 5 Programme of 1998


  1. ^ Since 1995 there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. According to CCSU some runners up through 2002 were Commended (from 1955) or Highly Commended (from 1966). There were about 160 commendations of both kinds in 48 years, including three for 1981 (one highly commended).


  1. ^ a b "Good night, Mr. Tom" (first U.S. edition). Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 4 August 2012. With a later publisher description.
  2. ^ "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". The Guardian 12 March 2001. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  4. ^ "BBC – The Big Read". BBC. April 2003. Retrieved 11 November 2012
  5. ^ "Curious Night at the Oliviers". Olivier Awards. 28 April 2013. Archived from the original on 1 May 2013. Retrieved 29 April 2013.

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