My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When David Walliams first moved into writing children’s literature I was, I’ll admit, a frightful snob. I didn’t really ‘get’ his television persona (and, as we all know, what we see on television is an exact truth), and so I stayed away from his books for a long time. I didn’t really want to go there and frankly I had no inclination to.
And all that was a bit stupid of me, because it kept me away from some genuinely really good children’s books. So if you’re still harbouring similar sentiments – don’t. Just don’t. David Walliams is a really good writer.
The Boy in the Dress is the first book he wrote for children and it is ineffably charming. There’s an almost tentative feel to it at points, particularly when the narrator interjects, giving the whole book an air of fragility. You can feel Walliams trying to find his voice, and his confidence in a way and The Boy in the Dress is full of promise.
The central character, Dennis, discovers that he likes Vogue. This doesn’t go down well with his dad and his brother, and Dennis is forced to keep his interests under wraps. Ultimately Dennis ends up making friends with the gorgeous Lisa who encourages him to be who he truly is. This ends up with Dennis dressing up as French Exchange student ‘Denise’ and going to school in a gold sequin dress…
Walliams handles what might be a didactic plot in other hands with a genuinely warm and matter of fact air. So what if Dennis likes wearing dresses? There’s something slightly subversive to the resolution of the book (which I won’t spoil) which I enjoyed greatly.
I don’t think it’s his best book. That for me goes straight to the wonderful Gangsta Granny, full of a confident humour and love. The Boy In The Dress however has a gorgeous feel and covers its themes in a very simple and attractive way, and is worth picking up on that alone.