By Maureen Tai, 30 April 2020
When Ben was just starting to read for himself, it was a little tricky to find gender-neutral chapter books that were easy enough for him to read largely on his own, yet interesting enough to hold his attention. I hit the jackpot with Allan Ahlberg’s series about the escapades of the Gaskitt family. I’ve been a huge fan of the prolific British author ever since discovering his baby board book masterpiece, Each Peach Pear Plum, and The Man Who Wore All His Clothes does not disappoint. This slim tome has simple text, colourful illustrations, and is chock-full of engaging characters who find themselves in laugh-out-loud situations, perfect for the emerging reader.
The Gaskitts are a regular sort of family. Mr. Gaskit is a loving father who enjoys taking on a variety of odd-jobs. Mrs. Gaskit is a loving mother who works as a taxi driver. The twins, Gus and Gloria, are fun-loving nine-year old school children. Horace, the Gaskitts’ pet, is a sociable tabby cat who loves old movies and easy chairs. Nothing too unusual there at all. Except, the Gaskitts also have a refrigerator that communicates through alphabet fridge magnets. Their car radio tends to get a little confused when making announcements, and traffic lights, lorries, petrol pumps and automated gates greet Mr. Gaskitt cheerfully as he drives to work. But what sort of work does Mr. Gaskitt do anyway? He wakes up in the morning and proceeds to pull on three sets of vests, pants and socks, put on multiple shirts and pairs of trousers, topping it off with several jumpers and layers of outerwear. None of his family members see this as being in the slightest bit odd. On the contrary, Mrs. Gaskitt, the twins and Horace pile up on the now substantially bulked-up Mr. Gaskitt in a spirited group hug (unthinkable activity these days!) before he squeezes into his car and heads to work. Hmmmmm.
The plot thickens as Mrs. Gaskitt picks up a suspicious looking customer from the bank and is directed to head to the airport – not long after the radio reports that the bank has been robbed! As Mrs. Gaskitt cogitates on what she should do with her possibly nefarious passenger, the twins are at school, struggling to adjust to the strict old-fashioned ways of the curmudgeonly Mr. Blotter, their supply teacher. Meanwhile, at home, Horace has invited a friend over to watch a sad old movie on the telly. The felines are settled comfortably into an easy chair, Horace with his hankie at the ready, when the programming is interrupted by a newsflash about the robbery. The exciting pursuit of the burglar commences in earnest!
You can probably guess that by the end of this jolly romp of a book, the robber’s escape plan is thwarted. What you wouldn’t be able to predict in a million years is how that is accomplished involving not one, but all the members of the Gaskitt family. Their individual and disparate paths are cleverly constructed to converge at the final point where the criminal literally runs into the artificially inflated Mr. Gaskitt while simultaneously gorging on stolen pizza. The day that started with the Gaskitts together, ends very satisfactorily with the family together again, just in time for us to flip over the book to the beginning and start reading again.
For ages 5 and up.