A review of Worm Story by Morris Gleitzman

Gleitzman has done his research, and this story will teach children about the inner workings of their body, to respect themselves, and to view life in all its layers and diversities from a number of different perspectives. The respect for life, even parasitic life, is obvious in the writing.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Worm Story
By Morris Gleitzman
Puffin
Nov 2004, trade paper, ISBN 0-14-330196-9

Like all good characters, Wilton has a problem. Not only is he overweight, but he’s fallen down his hill and can’t get back up, there are terrible storms and everyone seems to be having headaches. Wilton is no ordinary character though. He’s an intestinal worm with an inferiority complex, doing battle with teasing microbes and dangerous fungus. Despite his lowly status, Wilton is a heroic worm and, with the help of a tiny parasitic microbe named Algy, goes on a quest to find out the cause of his world’s malaise, and to uncover who he is and where he fits in the overall scheme of things. In other words, Wilton is the Ulysses of the inner world, and his search no less dangerous, magical, or arduous.

Wilton is the perfect character for children. He’s heroic despite not fitting in, kind and persistent, despite the many obstacles in his path. Squeamish parents and teachers may object to the rather graphic setting, which is the internal workings of one slightly overweight girl named Janet, complete with microbes, bacteria, fungus, and slime–the “local’s” name for faeces. At one point, Wilton falls out into Janet’s underpants, and looks over the great hills of her bottom, after fighting his way through a tough sludge blockage. On the other hand, if you have boys under the age of fifteen, you are probably fairly used to a large amount of potty talk, and the setting will help endear this story to children, encouraging reluctant readers to keep reading to see how far the descriptive setting will go, or to see whether this little but chubby intestinal worm will be able to save his host.

As Gleitzman points out, children don’t generally feel like they are in complete control of their world, and at places like school, they can often feel strange, singled out, and unimportant, and will likely identify with Wilton. As a character he is kind, and the story is full of important themes. The symbiotic friendship between Algy and Wilton provides a positive example. Other important themes such as appearances being misleading, judging by character rather than by role or appearance, and even the importance of healthy food are all presented in a lighthearted fun way which children will enjoy. The persistence with which Wilton overcomes his emotional and physical challenges is inspiring, and his good natured wonder as he discovers his world is a pleasure to follow.

Gleitzman has done his research, and this story will also teach children about the inner workings of their body, to respect themselves, and to view life in all its layers and diversities from a number of different perspectives. The reader is made to see the world from a worm’s eye view, and it looks quite different to the usual human’s eye view. The respect for life, even parasitic life, is obvious in the writing. What is also obvious is that Gleitzman allows himself to have quite a lot of fun while writing his books. That fun is passed on to the reader, who will also enjoy the underlying exuberance:

‘Don’t feel bad, Wriggles,’ said Algy. ‘I understand how much you want to meet your lot. But the world world’s in a mess. We’re up to our tendrils in sick sludge and killer fungus and wild storms and headache epidemics. We’ve got to find out what’s causing all this bad stuff.’
Wilton wanted to suggest that as there were two of them, perhaps they could do both things at once.
Meet worms and save the world.
He didn’t.
Algy obviously felt very strongly about this.
Wilton knew friends were meant to support each other as much as possible, and even though being a friend was a very new experience for him, he wanted to do it right.(44)

Worm Story is a lighthearted and very easy to read book which is surprisingly pithy in its morality and its sense of the beauty of life at all levels. This is a lovely, refreshing and enjoyable story which will appeal to everyone but the stuffy, and is highly recommended to encourage reluctant readers with a love of all things relating to the toilet. Anally retentive adults, however, should steer clear.

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