From Tracy Beaker to Lola Rose, Jacqueline Wilson knows how to keep readers gripped with dramatic storylines and disturbing plot twists. We round up the very best of her books.
Jaqueline Wilson’s books were a huge part of my childhood, and for me, the definition of childhood nostalgia. Whilst enjoyable, Wilson’s books delved into a number of dark themes including domestic abuse, death, abandonment and even a student-teacher affair. So let’s take a trip down memory lane and remember some of Wilson’s best (and probably most traumatic) stories.
The story of Tracy Beaker
There was no way I could start this list without Tracy Beaker at the top. The curly-haired rebel played a significant role in both children’s literature and TV. Tracy’s feuds with arch-nemesis Justine Littlewood and the adventures in The Dumping Ground kept us all entertained. The Story of Tracy Beaker is bittersweet. Taking the japes aside, the story is a little girl longing for a mother who doesn’t want her.
The Illustrated Mum
A personal favourite of mine, The Illustrated Mum is the story of two sisters, Star and Dolphin, and their struggles in looking after their bipolar mother. Again, for a children’s story the subject matter is dark, dealing with mental health issues, bullying, foster care, and of course, love. The girls love their mother, however the nature of her illness and erratic behaviour makes their relationship difficult and slightly toxic.
Incredibly dark but beautifully written, Dustin Baby is the story of April, a 14-year-old girl who was abandoned in a dustbin as a new born. After a row with her latest foster mother, April embarks on a search into her past. Her first foster parent can barely remember her and her adoptive mother had committed suicide. She is all alone in the search for her identity.
Prue and Grace are home schooled by their stern and scary father until Prue completes her GCSEs. At school, Prue struggles to fit in with the girls in her year, but finds solace in her art class. It is here Prue develops a crush on her teacher Rax, who then confesses he has feelings too. What is most disturbing about this book is the lack of accountability placed on Rax. His abuse of a minor is overlooked and he’s allowed to continue working at the school.
My Sister Jodie
Quite possibly the saddest of Wilson’s books centred around the traumatic death of Jodie. The book deals with sisterhood and grief and the reason it works so well is because, like most of Wilson’s books, of the realistic messages it sends to young people.
Set in the Victorian era, Hetty Feather is a Foundling. Growing up in the Foundling Hospital in London, Hetty deals with cruelty at the hands of the Matron and struggles to fit into society. However, Hetty is tough and spirited. She constantly gets into mishaps and adventures, which my 10-year-old self loved.
Again quite disturbing, this story focuses on domestic abuse and a young mother’s attempt to start a new life after fleeing an abusive partner. Jayni now gets to live a “supposed” dream life as Lola Rose, but at what cost?
The Bed and Breakfast Star
Elsa and her family live in a hotel after being made homeless. Rather than showcase this as extreme poverty, Wilson presents it as every child’s dream come true. Elsa cracks jokes throughout, trying to spread a light-hearted tone across underlying abuse and poverty.
Jacqueline Wilson was certainly not afraid of showcasing dark themes in her books. For the generation who read her books in primary school, we now look back on them as adults and realise just how disturbing some of them were.
Jacqueline Wilson continues to write new books, and her latest one, The Runaway Girls, was published on March 18, 2021. Hopefully the next generation of readers can appreciate this iconic author just as much as we do.