Illustrated by Quentin Blake
The Boy in the Dress – front dustjacket
Description:The sparkling debut children’s novel from David Walliams, co-creator and co-star of the multi-award-winning Little Britain. Dennis was different. Why was he different, you ask? Well, a small clue might be in the title of this book!
Charming, surprising and hilarious — The Boy in the Dress is everything you would expect from the co-creator of Little Britain. David Walliams’s beautiful first novel will touch the hearts (and funny bones) of children and adults alike.
David Walliams is well-known for his comedy turn with Matt Lucas in the TV show Little Britain, in which he is renowned for not being at all averse to dressing up like a laaady. In my opinion one of the reasons why Little Britain was so popular was that despite its frequent forays to the lands of Ew, Oh God and I Can’t Believe They Did That, it always had a tone of affection and also sadness for its flawed characters. A touch of bathos, a touch of pathos and out came hilarity.
Walliams retains the hilarity and the tones of affection and sadness with his first book (for children), and what he’s produced is a total delight. It’s simple, it’s funny, it’s very gentle and it has a huge heart at the middle of it.
We start by meeting Dennis, a young boy with a skill and joy for football, who lives with his brother John and his Dad, and who no longer sees his mother because of an unpleasant divorce. I particularly admired the way Walliams handles the relationship between Dennis, John and Dad and portrays the family – he doesn’t shy away from the fact that they have had an incredibly sad thing happen to them, but at the same time he doesn’t overdo the mawkishness or tragicness of their situation. The reader always has the sense that (as in real life) time will help heal the wounds of basically good people caught in a sad and difficult situation.
And so the story moves on with Dennis playing football, going to school, meeting Lisa (the best looking girl in school), sharing a liking for fashion with Lisa and, one day, Lisa convinces him to try on one of her dresses. Dennis, needless to say, rather enjoys the experience.
David Walliams as Emily Howard – She’s a lady!
For adults there are plenty of humourous asides and small, gentle in-jokes and the best thing about these are that they are gentle enough to also be appreciated by those more aware kids reading the book, but not to patronise those who don’t get them. For all readers there is also the laughter that comes from good old shock value (He’s trying on the dress! He’s going outside!) and a healthy reminder that people are far more complicated than the easy stereotypes of popular thought and media – Dennis is just as attracted to Lisa as a person as he is to her dresses, makeup and fashion magazines, and he enjoys his football just as much as he enjoys trying on high heels. I’m guessing this is a deliberate parallel to the media treatment of David Walliams himself – a man who clearly enjoyed dress-ups, and just as clearly enjoyed the company of good-looking women, and so sadly for the tabloids didn’t quite fit the nice boxes they have for people (closeted gay man? sleazy Lothario? CHILDREN’S AUTHOR??!!).
I can’t continue without mentioning the always wonderful illustrations by Quentin Blake – best known as the long term illustrator of Roald Dahl books. The synchronicity here between Blake’s illustrations and Walliam’s text is absolutely perfect – and feels like a wonderful homage to Dahl (not because the book is Dahl-like, because it isn’t really, but because the text and pictures work so well together, just like Dahl and Blake). I hope this is the start of a beautiful collaboration. To tie off this present in a bow The Boy in the Dress has now been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl prize.
As you can probably tell by now, I highly recommend this title, for adults and children. Please don’t allow the supposedly “controversial” nature of the plot to put you off giving this to every child in your near vicinity – they will be all the better off for it.
I think I’ll introduce the BookieMonster Kitteh rating – the four paws! And this one definitely gets four furry paws up.
P.S. Adults who enjoy this will also find Inside Little Britain fascinating for its further insight into Walliams’ life and character. You can find a short BookieMonster review of that title here.