I don't usually review children's books here on ER, but today I thought I'd introduce everyone here to a well known English children's author, Jacqueline Wilson. I know that her books are sold everywhere, so I'm guessing they've made it across the pond. Jacqueline is a big force for children. In my view, she is known because her books tackle lots of difficult issues in a way that is both funny and serious at the same time. I read a few of her books when I was little. I love her books even more now, because I have a wider knowledge of the issues, I realise more than I did in the past how important her stories are to children. You can find out more on her website, including details of various awards.
On with the first review!
Lily Alone by Jacqueline Wilson
February 2011, Hardback (UK, unsure of USA)
Review copy, Children's, 9+
Summary from Random House Children's Books
Lily isn't home ALONE - but she sort of wishes she was; looking after her three younger siblings is a lot of responsibility.
When Mum goes off on holiday with her new boyfriend and her stepdad fails to show up, Lily is determined to keep the family together and show they can cope without any grown-ups. But taking care of 6-year-old twins, her 3-year-old sister and the family's flat feels overwhelming and Lily is worried that school or social services might discover their situation and break up the family. What could be better than to take all the little ones for a camping adventure in the park? Plenty of space to run about, no carpet to vacuum, and surely no chance anyone will guess they're there . . .
I read Lily Alone when I needed a light read. That might seem a contradiction in terms considering the subject matter (parental neglect), but what I clung to was the humour that's dispersed throughout the story. Some books are solid heavy going. Having read Jaqueline's books before, I knew that this was the right blend for me in that particular mood.
Unfortunately Lily's mother's actions aren't unusual. Similar cases happen throughout the world each week (probably every day). Children should be at the heart of a family, and parents have an obligation (which is mostly enjoyed and not seen as a chore) to look after their children. Lily's mother's emotions are pretty up and down, and she seems more like a child than an adult. It's up to Lily to sort things out. Lily loves her mother. If she didn't, she would have spoken out when she and her siblings were left alone. She kept quiet and tried to do the right thing. It's an emotional book, with me wishing to take Lily and her siblings somewhere safe and warm. It's all from Lily's pov, and it's clear that she is mature for her age. The way her siblings view the situation is realistic. There is a lot of drama and strong emotions, so I recommend having tissues ready at this and the next book. I give it 9/10
The Longest Whale Song by Jaqueline Wilson
September 2010, Hardback (UK, not sure of USA)
Review copy, Children's 8+
Summary from Random House Children's Books
Ella’s mum’s in a deep coma having just had a new baby. That means Ella has to live with Jack, her hopeless stepfather and cope with her tiny newborn brother, as well as worrying about Mum. The only thing that’s going right is her school project. It’s all about whales and how they sing out to each other to attract a mate – sometimes for hours. Maybe a whale song could reach Mum, wherever she is, and bring her back to Ella and baby Samson. Surely it’s worth a try?
Ella's story deals with several issues at once. Ella struggles to live with her stepdad. She doesn't like him, wishes he wasn't there, and that her mother was with her biological father. It's very clear from her voice exactly how she feels about him. It makes her mother's new situation a nightmare. She's so attached to her mother that you will need tissues as she tries to get her mother to react to her. Although the situation isn't a pleasant one, I liked how it helped her form new friendships at school, and learn to love research. It shows that when there is a major family incident schools are quite understanding (although there is a limit to how far the child in question can slack off). It shows there is always something everyone can do during difficult times Equally it helps deal with the tricky issue of a loved one being ill, and all the fear and anger emotions which go hand in hand with illness.
It's a sweet book because it reveals how over time Ella actually starts liking her stepfather. It's a very slow process, and she never adores him as much as her mother. She discovers that her own father doesn't always meet her expectations, which in turn brings about a new understanding for her stepfather. She also discovers that she loves her little brother dearly, and shows signs of being an awesome older sister. You'll have to read it to find out what happens when Ella plays the whale song to her mother - it's a moving scene. I've give this one 10/10
I hope you've enjoyed learning a little bit about Jacqueline's work, and please do check out her books.
(I forgot to say that both books have illustrations by Nick Sharratt, who often illustrates Jacqueline's work. His illustrations are distinctive and add volumes to the stories.)