Reviewed for Children: The Midnight Gang by David Walliams
What a rare treat. I picked up this book after teatime and kept reading into the night to the very last page.
It is that good.
My eleven-year-old daughter knows good books. I have learned to trust that when she leaves a book on my bedside table with a quiet recommendation that I should read it, I should read it. Previous gems have included R.J. Palacio’s Wonder and Lois Lowry’s The Giver, both of which are the kind of book that have the power to make you a better person. I expected David Walliams’ The Midnight Gang to be an altogether rowdier kettle of fish.
In the book, Tom Charper was abandoned by his jet-setting parents at St. Willet’s very posh boarding school for boys. There, he survived on a diet of boiled eel and Brussels sprouts. He endured torture by his companions and suffered every variety of embarrassment. There was the time he sneezed in the headmaster’s face, covering him in snot. There was the incident when he bent over in the library to pick up a book and blew off very loudly. Days and weeks passed at St. Willet’s when Tom knew he was just wishing his life away.
Despite all this, Tom was less than fully prepared when a blow to the head resulted in his admission to the children’s ward on the forty-fourth floor of The Lord Funt Hospital. He was terrified by the deformed and nameless hospital Porter. He was bewildered by the dark heart of Matron who adds insult to head injury by dressing Tom in a pink, frilly nightdress. Not just slightly frilly, mind you, we are talking wedding cake frilly and certainly not the outfit Tom would have selected had he known that he was about to be inducted into a very secret society.
‘At his boarding school Tom had always felt like an outsider. He wasn’t in the rugby gang. Or the cool gang. Or even the swots’ gang. Now he was a member of the most exciting gang in the world.’
The Midnight Gang had a very fluid membership, changing as children are admitted to and released from hospital. In fact, The Midnight Gang is more of an idea than a club, passed (like nits) from child to child. Having drugged Matron by spiking her favourite chocolates (the big purple ones)with ’special snoozy pellets’, the gang convenes, as the name suggests, after midnight and work to make the special wish of one child come true.
Aiding and abetting the gang is Porter who may be mis-shapen of body and face but whose heart is certainly in the right place. Believing that, ‘if the patients in this hospital are happy then there is a much better chance of them getting better,’ Porter had spent decades finding ways to help children escape the confines of their beds and their illness by bending rules and breaking barriers.
David Walliams is one of those rare grown-ups who still thinks like a child. He places no limits on possibilities. He remembers how to dream big. What’s more, Walliams writes with respect for the intelligence and sensibilities of his target audience. Previous books, Ratburger, Demon Dentist and Awful Auntie have all won National Children’s Book of the Year Awards. He might not have a miracle cure, but he certainly knows the secret to making you feel better.
At 480 pages, The Midnight Gang is an impressively large-looking book for small people but it is well-padded with brilliant drawings by Tony Ross and makes wonderful use of illustrative font changes. With non-stop action and hilarious dialogue, this is an addictive read. Fans will be relieved to hear that Raj, the recurring shopkeeper, makes a raucous return.
There is a moral to the story, a big one, and though it is couched in humour and hijinks, it is also printed in a larger font to be sure you won’t miss it:
‘That life is precious. We should be kind to each other. While there is still time.’
If you know a child, from 7 to 107, who is ill, or feeling blue, or perhaps just needs reminding of how to dream big, a dose of Walliams could be the very medicine they need.