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Jacqueline Wilson and Her Impact on the Children's Book Market

By Holly Allwright, Rosie Pinder and Emma Rogers


Jacqueline Wilson, author of over one hundred books, is among the biggest names in children’s literature. She rose to fame after the release of her 1991 novel, The Story of Tracy Beaker, and continues to write bestsellers. But what makes her so popular, and why are her books still relevant today?

 

In her autobiography, Jacky Daydream, Wilson reveals that she started writing at age nine with her twenty-one-page novel Meet the Maggots. She continued to write throughout her teenage years and published her first book, Ricky’s Birthday, in 1969 at age twenty-four. The novel was part of the children’s book series, ‘Nippers’, for early readers, featuring working-class characters and settings. Wilson published several more books for the children’s market, including How to Survive Summer Camp, Glubbslyme and Take a Good Look. However, it wasn't until she released The Story of Tracy Beaker that she became one of the most recognisable names in children’s literature.

 

The Story of Tracy Beaker follows the life of Tracy, an unhappy and lonely ten-year-old girl who lives in a children’s residential care home known as ‘The Dumping Ground’. She has a vivid imagination and often tells stories about her Hollywood movie star mother, who is coming back to get her when, in reality, she was put in the care home due to her mother’s neglect and domestic violence. While the book is fun and entertaining, it also tackles real-life issues, contributing to its widespread popularity. In 2002, the book transitioned to the screen with a BBC adaptation that aired for five seasons until 2005. Its success prompted a spin-off, Tracy Beaker Returns, in 2010. Wilson further expanded Tracy's world with additional books, including The Dare Game and Starring Tracy Beaker, and in 2018, she revived the series with My Mum Tracy Beaker.

 

Wilson’s Tracy Beaker books are typical of the many novels she has produced, which often deal with challenging topics that affect young people’s lives. From growing up in care to coping with divorcing parents and grappling with strained sibling relationships, her books never fail to tackle emotional subject matter head-on. This is a massive part of what has connected her work to readers, contributing significantly to her decades-long success and critical acclaim. One noteworthy example is Double Act, a novel about the lives of identical twins Ruby and Garnet, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Wilson's literary endeavours were further recognised when she served as the Children’s Laureate from 2005 to 2007. In 2008, she was also bestowed with the title of Dame for her remarkable contributions to children’s literature.

 

While Jacqueline Wilson's literary career has been successful, it has not been without its share of backlash. Some parents take issue with the hard-hitting topics she chooses to cover, deeming them inappropriate for younger readers. Unlike many other children’s authors, Wilson's works don't always promise a conventional happy ending, which some parents would prefer for their children. Perhaps her most contentious release is Love Letters, a 2005 novel aimed at older readers, which sparked controversy for its exploration of students' crushes on teachers. While the topic is relevant and relatable for older audiences, the novel's unexpected outcome, almost victim-blaming the fourteen-year-old girl at its core, drew criticism. However, this book is simply a blip in an otherwise stellar repertoire that engages with and sheds light on a myriad of issues affecting children.

 

Since the 2000s, Jacqueline Wilson’s popularity has only continued, with new books hitting the shelves yearly. In fact, in early 2024, she released The Other Edie Trimmer, about a girl transported back to Victorian England. Another historical fantasy, Star of the Show, is scheduled for publication later this year.

 

These recent books underscore Jacqueline Wilson’s penchant for historical settings in her stories. Hetty Feather is perhaps her most famous historical series, partly because it was adapted into a hit CBBC show like The Story of Tracy Beaker. The series follows Hetty, who was abandoned as a baby and grew up in a Victorian London foundling hospital before becoming a maid for a wealthy family. While Hetty is spirited and brave, embarking on many exciting adventures, Wilson also depicts Hetty's struggles, infusing the story with her signature emotional depth.

 

With her upcoming novels, it’s clear that Jacqueline Wilson has no plans of slowing down, and her continued success shows that she is just as relevant to the children’s genre today as she was in the 1990s. Who knows what else the future holds for Jacqueline!

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