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About this book

Over the last twenty years, Jacqueline Wilson has published well over 100 titles and has become firmly established in the landscape of Children's Literature. She has written for all ages, from picture books for young readers to young adult fiction and tackles a wide variety of controversial topics, such as child abuse, mental illness and bereavement. Although she has received some criticism for presenting difficult and seemingly 'adult' topics to children, she remains overwhelmingly popular among her audience and has won numerous prizes selected by children, such as the Smarties Book Prize.
This collection of newly commissioned essays explores Wilson's literature from all angles. The essays cover not only the content and themes of Wilson's writing, but also her success as a publishing phenomenon and the branding of her books. Issues of gender roles and child/carer relationships are examined alongside Wilson's writing style and use of techniques such as the unreliable narrator. The book also features an interview with Jacqueline Wilson herself, where she discusses the challenges of writing social realism for young readers and how her writing has changed over her lengthy career.

Table of Contents


Jacqueline Wilson has formed an important part of the British children’s literature landscape in the last 20 years. She has published well over 100 titles, ranging from picture books for very young readers (Rickys Birthday 1973; Lizzie Zipmouth, 2000) to challenging young adult fiction (The Dream Palace, 1991; Love Lessons, 2005). Although best known as a writer of social realism (most notably The Story of Tracy Beaker, 1991 and its sequels), she has also written fantasy (Glubbslyme, 1987; Four Children and It, 2012) and historical fiction (Hetty Feather, 2011; Queenie, 2013). Since 1997, Wilson has occupied a place among the top 20 children’s authors borrowed from public libraries, and in 2002 she ousted Catherine Cookson from the top spot of most-borrowed author across both adults’ and children’s books.1 Wilson’s books regularly top the bestseller lists — she had the fourth highest UK sales in the first decade of the millennium — and a 2005 survey of children’s reading habits identified Wilson as one of the top three favourite authors (alongside J. K. Rowling and Roald Dahl).2 This is reflected in Wilson’s regular appearance on the shortlists of awards chosen by child readers themselves: her awards include the Red House Children’s Book Award (1996), the Smarties Prize (1995, 2000) and the Blue Peter People’s Choice Award (2002).
Lucy Pearson

1. A Publishing Phenomenon: The Marketing and Branding of Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson’s writing career has been long, extremely productive and outstandingly successful. She has made an unparalleled contribution to children’s literature in two major respects: she has brought an unusually large number of children to reading because they so love her books, and she has pushed forward the frontiers of what it is possible to write about. In doing so she has not only created a particular niche for herself which can be defined as the Jacqueline Wilson ‘brand’, but she has also had a long-lasting effect on what can loosely be defined as ‘family fiction’. For any single author to have such an impact is unusual; it gives both Wilson’s books and her very public role an exceptional status and power in twentieth- and twentyfirst-century children’s literature.
Julia Eccleshare

2. From Realism to Romance: The Early Novels

The story of Jacqueline Wilson’s career is much rehearsed. In her own biographical notes and in two book-length biographies for children (Parker 2003; Bankston 2013), we learn that she has been writing professionally since the age of 17. She has written magazine fiction, adult crime novels, books for older reluctant readers and fiction for children of all ages, from beginning readers to young adults, writing solely for children and young adults since 1982. In tension with this story of prolific and varied output is the fact that Wilson’s name is now associated with one particular and well-defined set of works, her post-1991 full-length books illustrated by Nick Sharratt (I will refer to these as ‘the Sharratt books’). These are clearly marked off from her earlier books, both in branding/marketing — the Sharratt books have remained consistent in appearance across more than 20 years of changing fashions in book design — and in the narrative of her career, which positions the publication of The Story of Tracy Beaker (1991, hereafter Tracy Beaker) as a turning point.1
Ika Willis

3. ‘This Started Like a Fairy Story’: Fantasy, Realism and Bibliotherapy in Jacqueline Wilson

Tracy Beaker’s characterisation of her own life as ‘a fairy story’ may seem at odds with Jacqueline Wilson’s reputation as a realist writer. Both Wilson’s champions and her critics comment on lack of easy ‘happily ever afters’ in Wilson’s books and her willingness to ‘lift the curtain on subjects once seldom discussed in literature aimed at the young’.1 Proponents of her work often praise these qualities in terms which emphasise their potentially therapeutic value for young readers: her novels frequently appear on lists of recommended titles for children experiencing problems in their own lives. Such lists are premised on the assumption that ‘reading about experiences which mirror aspects of their own experience can help them feel less isolated and more able to think about what is happening’.2 This assumption also underpins a more formal understanding of ‘bibliotherapy’ which seeks to use books in a therapeutic context to enable both children and adults to grapple with particular problems.3 This approach suggests that books which deal with particular problems are both necessary and important; nevertheless, Wilson’s realistic portrayal of topics such as bereavement, family breakups and child abuse has provoked discomfort in some critics.
Lucy Pearson

4. Feisty Girls and Fearful Boys? A Consideration of Gender Roles and Expectations in the Work of Jacqueline Wilson

In more than two decades of prolific publishing, from the notably feisty heroine of The Story of Tracy Beaker (1991) to Opal Plumstead (2014), allegedly the ‘most outspoken, fiery heroine yet’, Jacqueline Wilson has become well known for her creation of a gallery of strong female characters, whose emotional, and sometimes physical survival is contingent upon their cussedness.1 The determined female protagonist battling against adverse social circumstances is frequently contrasted with male supporting characters whose weaknesses apparently serve mainly to foreground the resilience of the heroine. This simple reversal of traditional gender expectations is often held to contribute to Wilson’s popularity with female readers, who, not unnaturally, enjoy identifying with a powerful, if troubled, central character. Nevertheless, while both Tracy and the eponymous heroine of Opal Plumstead conform to the ‘feisty’ stereotype, her texts contain a variety of representations that go beyond a simple binary challenge to received gender positions. This chapter will examine such representations, both of the children she creates and of the adults who feature in their lives, with especial attention to fathers or father-substitutes.
Kay Waddilove

5. The Illuminated Mums: Child/Primary Carer Relationships in the Fiction of Jacqueline Wilson

In an article published in the Observer magazine in March 2014, timed to coincide with a national exhibition about her work and life, Jacqueline Wilson describes her childhood with parents who ‘weren’t cruel, but it wasn’t a cosy, happy family’ as being a ‘wonderful environment for the writer who wants to write the sort of books I do’.1 From her account, Wilson’s post-war childhood was unhappy in an apparently conventional way. However, she is particularly well known for her portrayals of unconventional families, and the books she has written validate the experiences of children from many different backgrounds including those from ‘functional’ nuclear families, like her own, and those from a kaleidoscope of non-traditional ‘dysfunctional’ families. While her books draw on a range of relationships between children and their parents, Wilson is most attentive to the relationships between children and their, often single, mothers, and while she is careful not to put forward the view that non-traditional means incomplete, many of Wilson’s juvenile characters struggle with their desire to make good the gaps in their experience of nurturant primary care by their birth mothers. Taking in the span of her work, it is clear that mothers and mothering is a focus for Wilson and it is the subject of this chapter.
Helen Limon

6. The Irrepressible, Unreliable, Lying Tracy Beaker: From Page to Screen

The Story of Tracy Beaker (1991) is a book about lies and truthfulness, and features a protagonist who is obsessed with telling her own story, on her own terms; a story that features all manner of lies and deception. This chapter will use a combination of approaches to unreliability combined with psychological and linguistics theories of lying to explore what such narrative strategies reveal about Wilson’s characterisation of Tracy Beaker. As a point of comparison, at the end of the chapter, The Story of Tracy Beaker will be contrasted with episodes from the first TV adaptation in order to demonstrate how effective the use of an unreliable narrator can be in communicating the confessional story of a child in care.
Helen Day

7. ‘I’m Not Used to Writing about Me. It’s Always Us’: ‘Double Acts’ in Jacqueline Wilson’s Metafictional Novels

Jacqueline Wilson’s rich representations of the experiences of childhood and adolescence in contemporary society are frequently accompanied by a reflection on the role of reading and writing in these experiences. Diaries, letters, autofiction, even self-representation — her work is peppered with mises en abyme of the literary endeavour, generally focused on what could be called discovery-writing the self. Wilson’s writerly protagonists are exclusively female, from Tracy Beaker in 1991 to Rosalind Hartlepool in 2012 — inscribing the works that feature them firmly within the genre of ‘Stories for girls about girls who write stories’, as Ruth Berman puts it.1 They write with apparent spontaneity, and a seemingly self-centred desire to process their experiences. However, their enterprises are often also self-consciously directed towards intradiegetic readers, and their development as writers is rarely far from their minds. Wilson’s representation of young girls writing thus often deviates from the genre of the secret diary, introducing subtle but serious thinking about the act of writing not just for self-discovery but also for an audience and as a semi-professional activity. As such, her writerly heroines are closer to Jo March than to Georgia Nicholson, and her metafictional novels qualify as examples of Künstlerroman — tales of artistic maturation — perhaps more than as Bildungsroman.
Clémentine Beauvais

8. Coming of Age in Jacqueline Wilson’s Victorian Fiction

Jacqueline Wilson’s sequence of Victorian novels — Hetty Feather (HF, 2009), Sapphire Battersea (SB, 2011), Emerald Star (ES, 2012) and Diamond (D, 2013) — contains much that we associate with the ‘typical’ Wilson novel — feisty heroine, displaced children, an interest in social stigma and marginalised people — and yet the series differs from the rest of her work in several noteworthy ways, mainly in their historical settings (the 1880s and 90s), and in their sustained exploration of a child maturing into a young adult.
Sheena Wilkinson

9. Jacqueline Wilson and the Problem Novel in Comparative Context

Jacqueline Wilson’s problem novels have earned critical and popular acclaim for their realistic, reader-centred approach to the difficult psychological, social and familial issues that children and teens face. In her article “‘So Good It’s Exhilarating”: The Jacqueline Wilson Phenomenon’, Kay Waddilove observes that it is ‘the “situations” in her books that have made Wilson one of the most controversial, as well as popular, authors of the twenty-first century’.1 Waddilove offers examples such as eating disorders, abandonment, mental and physical illness, paedophilia and emotional abuse, and there are several others that could be added to this list, including divorce, death, sex, financial worries and bullying. While controversial, such issues are hardly unique to Wilson’s work and have appeared frequently as the subject matter of problem novels in the Anglophone world since the mid-twentieth century, when books such as Judy Blume’s became enormously influential. The focus of this chapter is to locate Wilson’s contributions within the broader context of the problem novel genre in Anglophone literature for children and teens during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by examining her work in relation to that of her US predecessor, Blume, to whom Wilson is often compared in American popular and social media.
Rebecca Morris

10. A Writing Life: Interview with Jacqueline Wilson

LP You started — as is well known — writing with D. C. Thompson. How connected were you with their efforts for teenagers?
Lucy Pearson, Jacqueline Wilson
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