Review Blog

May 24 2011

I am Thomas by Libby Gleeson and Amin Greder

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 978 1742373331.
(Ages 8+) Highly recommended. Thomas is different. He is very aware of his difference. He tells us in the first few pages that he is nor like his brother nor the other students in his school. He retreats to his headphones as all around him tells him that he will be a failure and not amount to anything. He is told that people are ashamed of him and this is in the same page as the order to clean his room, brush his teeth and show respect. All the instructions given to kids are listed as he watches the array of grey people around him who offer him a place to go. The army offers serving his country, religion offers forgiveness of sins, a politician offers being part of a democracy, but they are all the same, grey and the same, expecting him to be the same as they are. The bleak view of the world is an amalgam of all that is nasty, the cloying religious zealot, the braying army personnel, the priest offering him the seat next to him, the leering politician, the overwhelming teachers, the dictatorial father and yet the crying, impassive mother. A fascinating mix of a world which is absolutely nasty. Rejecting all the pressures to conform, he boards a bus, taking his life in his own hands.
The illustrations of Thomas' journey to retain his individuality are amazing. The grey suited men who surround Thomas with promises and exhortations create a claustrophobic atmosphere on many of the pages. The men and the few women are remote, removed, emotionless, and often portray a dictatorial approach when trying to deal with Thomas, the outsider. The first few pages show us what Thomas likes, the model of a plane, a globe, an atlas, but as the pages progress the colours become more grey, the things depicted more redolent of authority and rules, just as the last few pages revert from rules to freedom on the bus, as colour becomes more obvious. As Thomas rejects the sterile paths offered to him, colour returns once again. And watch out for the contrasting items on the pages. On one page is depicted Thomas' sandshoes, lying almost together, open with laces askew, but further up the page in black and white is a pair of shoes, neatly laced, side by side with the boot polish and brush neatly next to the shoes. On another page, a man is rejecting the musical instruments in the corner, the chess set is left awry and so on. Little gems are there to be explored and savoured.
A most interesting book, readers will have much to discuss with their teacher or parents as they sit together and read both the words and the illustrations, discussing authority, rules, institutions, free will, fitting in - the list is endless, and the bleak world portrayed too will be the cause of discussion about what there is to be thankful for.
Fran Knight

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