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I can't write a long entry about David Walliams's The Boy in the Dress as it's not substantial enough for any kind of criticism. It's a simple story for your average 8-to-10ers I suppose, and my previous remarks do stand, it does read as though Walliams is trying to channel the spirit of Dahl but without any of dear Roald's bite, do you remember how whenever they did George's Marvelous Medicine on Jackanory they had to broadcast warnings to kiddies not to actually try mixing the medicine for themselves, because Roald just goes round the house putting every type of poisonous liquid in there? Or that fact that one of his Revolting Rhymes uses the word 'slut'? Well, Walliams gives us an eminently hissable head teacher but he's just unpleasant, not memorably unhinged like some of Dahl's martinets.

So 'The Boy in the Dress' is Dennis, twelve-year-old son of a remote lorry-driving father who, on discovering that he shares a liking for fashion with the colest girl in the school starts hanging round with her and reading her copies of Italian Vogue. Lisa is also a dressmaker and, because he likes the feel of the fabric, Dennis starts modeling for her, then needs little persuasion when she begs him to come to school as her french exchange penpal. It even seems he'll get away with it until kicking a football exposes him and he gets expelled from school, but he's needed as he's the star player in the schools football team and if he's not in the line-up then they haven't got a hope of winning the final against the meanest school team in the area.

Given his target age-range Walliams is clearly not re-writing Read My Lips for the pre-teens set, as he acknowledges his sister for dressing him up as a child there's certainly a healthy dollop of autobiography mixed in with some wish-fulfilment in there, especially in how all the local community is so nice to Dennis after his secret is out. And although Walliams can't resist a reference to Little Britain we are at least spared any Emily Howards. In fact, it's nice how positive this book is (the positive spin on the toothlessness I mentioned earlier), I doubt it would make any young boys want to experiment if they weren't going to already, but it might influence others not to think themselves or others freaks if they start to follow that path. What's odd and perhaps a little disappointing is that Walliams doesn't really address the secondary theme of the book, Dennis's family is one in which the mother walked out and left her husband and sons alone. Dannis's Dad responds but shutting down emotionally and trying to banish all trace of her memory from the house. Although there's a touching scene near the end where this is nearly addressed it does seem as if Walliams isn't that interested in that idea except where it can directly relate to the main concept of 'The Boy in the Dress' (and thankfully there is no drive to suggest that Dennis's at of transvesticism is in any way related to the absence of his mother).

Sir Quentin of Blake does a stirling job as ever, his illustrations for this are much the same as everything else he's done in his four hundred year long career and is much preferable to Nick Sharratt, even if the latter is now capable of pictures that look as though they have depth along with length and breadth.

Hmm, seems I could manage to write a fair bit after all.


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June 2015

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