The Butterfly Club : Jacqueline Wilson

The Butterfly ClubThe Butterfly Club by Jacqueline Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s been a while since I read one of Jacqueline Wilson’s books. I went through a phase of them when I got access to a new library (I say that like I was a burglar, but trust me I was legitimate and had a ticket and everything). They had shelves and shelves full of Jacqueline Wilson’s work, and it was a heady rush to get to read them all. Wilson is one of the great dames of British children’s literature and one that exists in a curious absence. It is an absence that characterises both her and similar popular authors, an absence of critical approval and mainstream awards. Of course Wilson has won awards, and plenty of them, and has been longlisted for the Carnegie, but her work exists in a sort of popular bubble of otherness. This isn’t new in British children’s literature: JK Rowling, Enid Blyton, etc, etc, but it is marked. There are times when I wonder if we know how to handle popular fiction in this country (Let me talk to you at some point of Twilight and of how popular does not necessarily equal the death of all things …).

The Butterfly Club is deeply charming in that way that Wilson has. The consistent markers of her work are a charming, genuine sympathy both with her protagonists but also with the other characters in the story. She’s known, too, for integrating a diverse range of issues into her work and The Butterfly Club is no exception. In one neatly constructed narrative that bowls along with abandon, it deals with social class, health, school worries, and friendship.

I will admit that I was concerned at how certain elements of the class related issue was portrayed in the illustrations as they felt markedly simplistic in how they portrayed the different people involved. A sort of shorthanded visual stereotype. It’s difficult to explain and, in a way, I wonder if it’s because of the nature of the reading I give these texts. I am an adult, reading from a very privileged and distinct context, and so I mention this reaction but I do not deny the great appeal of this book. And I do not deny the great appeal and wonder of Sharratt’s vibrant and dynamic work; he draws his characters with such rich and lovely thick lines that it’s hard to not love them.

One particular piece of joy for The Butterfly Club is the way it highlights Tina’s scientific knowledge and interest in butterflies and how this helps to form a connection between her and others. Wilson handles it so well and positions it as such a source of pride within Tina, that it’s deeply inspiring and rather lovely.There’s also a delicious character cameo within the final sequence of the book that will make fans of Wilson’s former titles deeply happy. I like what Wilson does, I really do. She finds the heart of everything she does, and this book is no exception. It is full of such heart.

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Four Children and It : Jacqueline Wilson

Four Children and ItFour Children and It by Jacqueline Wilson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

E Nesbit was one of those authors who wrote big, thrilling, seditious, moving books that pushed at the boundaries of what defined the genre of children’s literature of her day. And I’d argue, quite happily, that that’s pretty much what Jacqueline Wilson does today. The stylistic parallels of both authors are inescapable.

But for Wilson to write a contemporary spin on Five Children and It? That was a lot for me to think about. I love Five Children and It; I love the darkness, and the family dynamics and the way that sometimes, getting what you wish for may not be what you want. And, to be frank, I didn’t really have high hopes for Four Children and It. If I had anything, I had doubts that it could – well – work.

Four Children and It works. It works really well.

Whilst there’s the obvious plot, kids find Psammead, Psammead grants wishes, wishes aren’t quite what they expect, bla bla yadda yadda, life lessons learnt and that; Four Children and It has a whole whole new level to it.

That level is this: this book is a tribute, a tribute to reading, to literature and to the golden age of children’s literature. In a way it feels like it is closer to Wilson than anything else of hers that I’ve ever read. Four Children and It is rooted in Wilson’s obvious love of children’s literature, of Anthea, Cyril and the lamb, of their siblings one-book-removed of Roberta, Phyllis and Peter, of Mary Lennox, of Meg and Jo and Beth and Amy, of Sara Crewe and of Pauline, Petrova and Posy.

And it’s lovely. It’s genuinely very, very lovely. Each page is full of a sort of palpable pleasure that is impossible to resist.

Four Children and It feels like something quite special. It’s a re-interpretation, a re-imagination of a very lovely text that keeps the source text intact. It’s far too easy to rewrite a story with the noble intention of introducing it to a new audience and through the act of that rewriting suck every inch of pleasure from it. Wilson doesn’t do that. Her writing is so happy throughout that you can’t help but get on board.

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A Jacqueline Wilson Birthday Cake

Let the birthday celebrations begin! Over the next week or two I will be posting some of my very favourite children’s literature themed birthday cakes!

This is my first, and as you can tell it’s a Jacqueline Wilson themed cake! I love how they’ve caught the exact nature of Nick Sharratt’s illustrations and the bright colours that totally characterise his work with Jacqueline Wilson.  This is utterly gorgeous and made me very jealous of Millie 😉  It’s by Lisa @ Chubbybubcakes and I am in love with it. Thank you for letting me feature it Lisa!

Image: Lisa @ Chubbybub Cakes

Jacqueline Wilson to update Five Children and It?

According to this, Jacqueline (ignore the typo in the Tweet, it’s from the Grauniad) Wilson will be “updating” Five Children and It – the fabulous classic from E Nesbit. As I posted on Twitter, this news leaves me with very mixed feelings.

E Nesbit’s work sparks of a very particular vintage and is just lovely. It’s also brilliant.  Jacqueline Wilson’s work also sparks of a very particular vintage; grittier yes but no less “good”. She’s one of the defining writers of our time for a reason.

If it’s a “reboot” as opposed to an update, then yes, maybe, I could almost see something like that work. But an “update” suggests that it needs to be updated, that there’s an active demand for it to be updated, and that E Nesbit’s work isn’t accessible to the modern reader and that’s something I’d vehemently disagree with 😦

Fingers crossed this one works out.