Jacqueline Wilson is a name that a lot of avid readers might remember from their childhood. Wilson, who has written over 100 books, is one of the most loved British children’s authors of our generation. With an illustrator with a distinctive art style and memorable stories, often about children from low-income families, and addressing real-life issues such as divorce, abuse, bullying, and depression, Wilson has made her mark in the literary world and has entertained and inspired child and adult readers for nearly three decades.
I, too, am a huge fan of Wilson’s work and have been reading her stories since I was little. Here is a list of my top ten favourite books written by her.
10. Bad Girls (1996)
Bad Girls tells the story of Mandy, a ten-year-old who is bullied at school by a girl called Kim. Mandy meets a new neighbour, a fostered older girl called Tanya with whom she quickly becomes friends.
Mandy has elderly parents and is bullied for her childish hair and glasses, and her newfound friendship with the older and “cooler” Tanya gives her hope for the future as they promise to be best friends forever. However, Tanya is battling her own personal demons which threaten to get Mandy into trouble.
I enjoyed this book a lot as a kid and read it several more times over the years. Mandy is a timid and very likable character with a cleverly written shyness made worse by bullying. Tanya also makes a cameo appearance in another of Wilson’s books, Dustbin Baby.
9. The Bed and Breakfast Star (1994)
The Bed and Breakfast Star tells the story of Elsa, whose family have to move into a run-down hotel after they lose their home to debt. Elsa’s stepfather, Mack, treats her badly, often smacking her when she’s naughty, yet dotes on her half-brother and half-sister, Pippa and Hank. Elsa struggles to adjust to her new life and helps take care of her siblings.
One of my favourite things about this book is that Elsa’s character is very memorable: she adores jokes and her joke books are some of her most prized possessions. She also has a very loud voice and is quite fearless when taking care of her siblings and standing up to potential bullies. Behind Elsa’s bright personality, we see a struggling family and how she copes with it.
8. The Lottie Project (1997)
Unlike the previous two books, Charlie in The Lottie Project is a popular and much-liked student who dislikes the new substitute teacher, Miss Beckworth. Miss Beckworth sets a history project which Charlie then uses to reflect her real life, creating a Victorian-era character called Lottie, who works as a maid to support her family.
I loved this book because there is a chapter about Charlie, and then a chapter she has written about Lottie, often having similar themes in their stories. It makes us feel like we are seeing the world through Charlie’s eyes and following her story. It’s one of those books you end up thinking about a lot long after you’ve finished reading it.
7. Clover Moon (2017)
Clover Moon is a little different to Jacqueline Wilson’s usual stories because it isn’t set in modern times but in the Victorian era. Clover lives in Cripps Alley, a grim place of squalor, and takes care of her younger siblings and learns to read with the local dollmaker. When she loses her younger sister to scarlet fever, the only future Clover sees is a life of servitude to her cruel stepmother, Mildred. So Clover plans to run away to a home for destitute girls, where new challenges await.
This is the first historical drama of Wilson’s that I’ve seen, yet it still had a charming young female character going through situations and hardships that real girls back then did.
6. The Suitcase Kid (1992)
When Andy’s parents divorce, her life is torn apart when they move out and make new families. Andy spends one week with her mother and one with her father, always moving and never belonging anywhere. Enduring bullying from her step-siblings and struggling to cope with her broken family, Andy talks to her Sylvanian toy rabbit and only friend, Radish, wishing more than anything that her parents could make up and they could go back to live in their old home, Mulberry Cottage.
This is one of my favourite Wilson books because I believe a lot of children of divorced parents can relate to it. It’s another one I read again and again and that made me shed a tear or two for Andy and Radish.
5. Wave Me Goodbye (2017)
Another historical drama of Jacqueline Wilson’s is the newer book Wave Me Goodbye, which tells the story of Shirley, a ten-year-old girl who is sent away to the countryside at the beginning of World War II. Not knowing where she is going or what is going to happen to her, her life changes forever when she moves to a strange, half-empty red house with other children in the same situation.
World War II is forever a point of interest for all generations, and with Jacqueline Wilson’s gift for creating child characters dealing with different situations, this book stood out as one of her best works.
4. Secrets (2002)
Secrets tells the story of two girls, one chapter each. One girl, Treasure, is from a working-class family and goes to live with her grandmother after her stepfather scars her by hitting her with his belt. Meanwhile, India is the daughter of a successful fashion designer, and with her large weight and self-defined weirdness, feels like an outcast. The girls strike up an unlikely friendship and when Treasure’s stepfather becomes more dangerous, promises to help keep her safe from him.
I read this book when I was a little older and could fully appreciate how scary Treasure’s situation was; she had already been to hospital about the scar but lied to protect her stepfather for her mother. Her parents threaten to take her away from her grandmother’s house and Treasure feels like she can’t escape her abusive household. It’s a story that really stayed with me and I think it’s one of Wilson’s best.
3. The Illustrated Mum (1999)
Dolphin lives with her sister, Star, and her mother, Marigold, in a small flat. Dolphin doesn’t fully understand it, but she and her sister take care of each other when their mother, who is covered in tattoos, often goes on drinking binges, brings strange men home, and forgets to take care of them. As Star is growing up and growing more resentful towards Marigold, Dolphin struggles to deal with everything changing around her in her already broken life.
The Illustrated Mum is fantastic because it deals with mental health and portrays the perspective of a ten-year-old growing up with a mother who has manic depressive disorder, yet loves her anyway. Memorable and often scary, I found myself following Dolphin’s journey again and again, appreciating the story and the meaning behind Marigold’s bizarre behaviour a little more as I got older.
2. The Story of Tracy Beaker (1991)
Tracy Beaker is probably one of the first characters people think of when someone mentions Jacqueline Wilson. The Tracy Beaker books tell the story of a tough girl in a foster home of the same name, who is always waiting for the day when her mother, whom she boasts is a famous actress, will come and get her from the foster home. There are three stories of Tracy Beaker, but I included them all as a single item on this list.
Tracy’s imagination and love for writing gets her through her life in the home, where she is picked on and feels like an outcast. There has also been a TV series based on the show and I think the character Cam, who Tracy makes friends with, is based on Wilson herself.
1. Lola Rose (2003)
My favourite Wilson story of all time is Lola Rose. Jayni, her brother Kenny, and their mother run away from her abusive father after he punches Jayni, changing their names and taking on new identities in London with a small fortune they won on a scratchcard. However, when Jayni (now Lola Rose)’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, their luck starts running out.
I fell completely in love with this sad story and eagerly followed Lola Rose and Kendall’s story with their struggling young mother, where it often seemed like young Lola Rose was the one taking care of the others. It’s a very memorable and charming story that I believe is Jacqueline Wilson’s best.
Honourable mentions include Double Act, about twins who are identical but different, Sleepovers, about four friends who organise sleepovers together for their birthdays, Girls in Love, which also got its own TV show, Dustbin Baby, the story of a girl who was left in a bin when she was born, and Vicky Angel, about a girl who keeps seeing her best friend even after she dies.
Jacqueline Wilson continues to inspire and charm young readers in the United Kingdom and beyond, and there’s no doubt that there are a lot more of her books that we can look forward to.