Hello Lovely People!
How are you all? I hope you’re well and enjoying the weekend peace you’ve hopefully been given.
Back at work for me now and exam season is fast approaching! With the pressures and strains of every day teaching life, it is so important to me that the weekends are all about relaxing and reading. Yesterday I went to the beautiful place of York and bought a number of amazing Harry Potter products from The Shop That Must Not Be Named. Then I spent some time in York Minster. However, one other little treat was that I’ve managed to get a front row seat to the RSC’s musical of The Boy in the Dress. I can not wait. There’s information about this here if you are interested. Matilda the musical was and still is awesome, so I expect the same from The Boy in the Dress. Therefore, it’s only fitting I review the first of David Walliams children’s books with you all today.
What’s it all about?
This life-affirming novel centres around 12 year old Dennis. He lives with his father and his older brother (14) John. Dennis loves football and watching Trisha on TV but has always felt a little different to his father and brother. Their mother left when Dennis was 7 following her divorce from his father. Their father, only known as Dad, reacts to the divorce by comfort eating which consequently results in him becoming quite large.
Dennis is a very contrasting character to his brother and father, who seem more alike. Despite being the best on the school football team, he desperately misses his mother. His father believed he burnt all the photos, but Dennis found one to keep. In that photo his mother is wearing a yellow dress which comforts him greatly. It’s the only way he can still see his mother.
One day, Dennis sees the same dress on the cover of a Vogue magazine. Dennis buys this magazine from Raj, the local shop owner. But when his father finds the copy of Vogue magazine, he is furious. His brother John starts to tease him, calling him “Denise”.
“Are you sure you want this, Dennis?” asked Raj. “Vogue is mainly read by ladies, and your drama teacher Mr Howerd.“
Things get worse for Dennis as he receives a detention at school the same day for kicking a football through a window. Something magical happens in detention because Dennis meets Lisa James. Lisa is the most amazing girl in school. She’s pretty and fashionable and popular. Lisa invites Dennis around to her house and shows him her drawing designs for different clothing. She persuades Dennis to dress up in girls’ clothing. After wearing an electric blue dress, Lisa convinces him to go out in public, under the alter ego of “Denise”, a French exchange student with limited English.
Their first stop is to Raj’s corner shop. Naturally, Dennis is worried that he will be recognised but amazingly, he isn’t! Raj completely believes that it is “Denise”. Because of their success here, Dennis is convinced to go to school with Lisa as “Denise”.
“Rules don’t apply here,” laughed Lisa. “Dennis, you can be whoever you want to be!“
The school day starts well and Dennis is unnoticed. However, Lisa forgot that she had a double French period. The sheer excitement from the French teacher means the narrative splits into French, not knowing that Dennis won’t understand a work. Rather than being found out, Denis accidentally upsets the teacher by criticising her accident. She is absolutely devastated.
Things go from bad to worse as during break time, a football is flying towards “Denise”, and naturally Dennis kicks it. Rather unfortunately, he slips and is revealed to be a boy. What feels like the whole school laughs at him. He’s sent to Mr Hawtrey, the headmaster, and is expelled from school for cross dressing.
His Dad is absolutely furious and sends Dennis to his room. Darvesh, Dennis’s best friend comes round to see Dennis, to tell him that they’re still best friends regardless, but is sent him again by his Dad.
“No more watching that show Small England or whatever it’s called where those two idiots dress up as ‘laydees’. It’s a bad influence.“
Darvesh’s actions mean so much to Dennis that he decided to attend a very important football match against Maudlin Street, at school on the Saturday. He’s not allowed to play and can see that the team are going to suffer an almighty defeat.
Lisa has a plan and the whole team encourage Dennis to play in a dress, which he does. With Dennis back on the team, it is complete again and they come back from being 6-0 down to actually win the final.
Dennis’s Dad has never attended a football match before, much to his sadness. This time was different. It wasn’t just Darvesh’s mum cheering and hollering from the sidelines, it was Dennis’s dad too.
The following Sunday morning upon visiting the corner shop again, Raj informs Dennis that Mr Hawtrey used to come and collect the Telegraph paper every Sunday at 7am. Although recently it has been his sister, Doris. What Raj found strange was that there was something peculiar about her.
Lisa and Dennis wake up ridiculously early to see what they could find out and as soon as the clock struck 7, Mr Hawtrey arrived at the shop dressed in a skirt and blouse! With this new knowledge, Lisa and Dennis threaten that unless Dennis is reinstated in school, they will tell everyone about Mr Hawtrey’s cross dressing. The next Monday Dennis is back in school, as normal.
By the end of the novel, Dennis, his Dad and his brother are able to talk about the wife and mother who left them. Dennis and Lisa remain the best of friends, as does Dennis and Darvesh. John even decides he needs to look out for his younger brother more. Harmony is restored.
This book is everything you’d hope children’s books to be like. Honest, funny, understanding and accepting. We have all felt a time in our lives where we just feel like we don’t belong. The book is an anthem for that feeling and for the reality that that is actually ok. I really think this will be an awesome production too. Its cross dressing is actually a very Shakespearean element, meaning it will be right at home in Stratford upon Avon’s RSC theatre. Children’s books really lift the heart and Walliams has a way of making us all feel like we’re perfectly acceptable as we are. After all, we all belong whether we wear dresses and kick footballs or not.
“I think all those rules are boring. About what people can and can’t wear. Surely everyone should be able to wear whatever they like?“
Big love all xx