Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Problem I Have With Jacqueline Wilson

Jacqueline Wilson is one of those authors who I read at lot when I was young, but who I find hard to get back into as an adult. I will say that since it has been so long since I read one of her new books, she might have changed somewhat. I stopped reading when it started to feel like she wrote the same book a lot. She uses a lot of plot points over and over again.

Let me explain. There's a main character, often with messy/untidy hair, or in some way not classically beautiful. She (almost always a she) often had a troubled home life - council estates or being in a care home were common. She's often either a brat, or she's nice, but shy and meek. She wants to become an artist, writer or an actress. If a young boy is described as weedy, she will become friends with him, and if a character is blonde and beautiful, she will be mean. There's a surprising amount of girl hate in her books, although it is tempered by a large amount of supportive female friendships, too. Also, most of her protagonists, at least every one I've come across, were of white British descent. I'm not saying that her books that fit this pattern are bad books, just that they do get samey after a while.

However, her books have been loved by generations of children. How do you rate a children's book? Is it by how well it's enjoyed by it's intended audience, or how readable it is for adults? Honestly, I think this is one of her biggest issues, and one that bothered me, even then. She writes for children, and in doing so, it feels patronising. Her characters always seem to act much younger than they actually are. And she tells rather than shows a lot of the time.

On the other hand, I do still like how her books deal with issues not often touched upon in children's literature. She doesn't patronise her reader's ability to grasp these serious subjects. In a way, it feels like she believes her readers are more intelligent than her characters are. And very few of her books aimed at children have any sort of romance in them at all. Romance is a part of life and not something I believe children should be hidden from completely, but it is a refreshing change of pace.

Her age also starts to show whenever a character has to use technology, and she uses a grading system that it nothing like what actual UK schools use. (For example, in Diamond Girls, the main character's sister, Rochelle, says she got an A on a project in primary school. We don't use a letter based grading system in primary school!) Her language can also be problematic at times. In the Girls in Love series for instance, a character uses the T-word slur to describe characters who are possibly either men dressed in drag or transgender women. I apologise, but the narrative isn't clear enough either way for me to know.

So, are there any of her books I would recommend? Yes, anything which deviates from the above plot. Midnight is one of my favourites of hers, mainly because it does go against many of her stereotypical plot points. Also, you absolutely should give a few of her books to young boys as well as young girls. If they don't seem interested, let it drop - I believe no good can ever come out of forcing a child to read. But the only way our world is going to change is if we begin to understand one another more, and one of the ways we can do that is by reading about people who are not like us.

Also, parents might want to check if they feel the material in the books are suitable for their child's age. Because she's written all over the spectrum from early chapter books to books aimed at older teenagers, and a wildly inconsistent categorisation of her books in most libraries and bookshops, they can easily end up with a book not meant for them. I know, and I disagree with limiting books available to young adults, but younger children are a different matter. For example, in one of the books in the Girls in Love series, they are out at a concert that gets cancelled. One of the girls decides to hop in a van with some older guys, and the other two decide to go along since they assume it'll be safer. There are also references to drinking and drugs while they are with them.

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