Tom Gates: Excellent Excuses (and other good stuff) by L. Pichon, paperback novel, 345 pages, published by Scholastic Children’s Books in 2011.
Tom and his friend, Derek, live next door to each other and have formed their own band, the Dogzombies. They practice in Derek’s garage, with his annoying father popping in all the time to give them musical advice. Dogzombies needs a drummer, so the boys hold auditions, just in time for their first gig.
Tom has an interesting family that he has to cope with, including a mean and rude older sister, some unusual grandparents that he calls ‘The Fossils’, and twin cousins that keep trying to make him watch scary movies. And then there is school, too. Tom and Derek are in year five, where they have to avoid the school band, put up with the taunting and lies of the smug and sly Marcus, and adequately complete their homework to get merits and gold stars. None of which is always easy.
I thought this book was going to be really funny, but it wasn’t. A few times I found myself smiling, but not much really made me laugh, aside from the Dogzombies song about Tom’s sister, “Delia’s a Weirdo”, and when Marcus got his just desserts. Otherwise it was a fairly simple story of the antics of Tom and his friends as they navigate family and school life without getting into too much strife, something that is rather difficult for Tom. It’s not all bad though. The illustrations on every page of this book are simple, yet they definitely enhance the quality of the story, and help it to appeal to young readers. The story was also mostly believable, within the realms of the reader’s own experiences as a child, and the characters were interesting and diverse.
This chapter book could also be considered a graphic novel, due to the large volume of illustrations throughout the book. I found myself turning the pages far too often, as there wasn’t much contained within each page. While this was a little distracting for me, for a young reader, it would give them a feeling of satisfaction in being able to read such a thick book relatively quickly and easily. I think it is most suitable for lower to middle primary age students. My second grader started reading this, but didn’t get far into it before saying it wasn’t that interesting. She has greatly enjoyed other authors with a similar style, such as Dav Pilkey and Andy Griffiths, so I was a little surprised, but we all come across books that just don’t “grab” us.