I’m struggling to get in the reading mood at the moment. I don’t know whether it’s being in the house all day or if it’s just the stress of the current situation. Whatever it is, I’m back in the old routine of getting in from work and just binge watching Netflix or something. I think that’s why I’ve been so drawn to the books of my childhood. It’s the idea of reading something familiar and comforting. Plus, knowing that it’s going to be an easy read is certainly useful. Of course, it could also be evidence that I’m slowly regressing back to my childhood. I may still be working full-time but I’m pretty reliant on my parents these days. It sometimes feels as though I’m going back in time. Maybe I should be worried about returning to the books I enjoyed as a kid? Regardless, after reading The Worst Witch last week, I decided to start reading two Jacqueline Wison books I used to love. The first combined my love of history with my love of reading. I was obsessed with this book.
Jacqueline Wilson is used to writing about kids who are outsiders. She normally likes to write from the perspective of the kids who are bullied by the popular kids and who don’t fit in with their fellow students. In The Lottie Project we meet Charlotte or Charlie as she prefers to be known. Instead of being the outsider, Charlie is a pretty popular girl. She has plenty of friends and is happy with her home life. Charlie was brought up by her single mother, Jo, who had Charlie when she was young. They don’t have a particularly lavish life but they’re happy enough. Until Jo loses her job and fears they might not be able to afford their flat. Thankfully, Jo manages to find new work but this just adds to Charlie’s problems because it brings Mark and his son Robin into their lives.
On top of her personal drama, Charlie is struggling to adapt to her new teacher, Miss Beckworth. On her first day, Miss Beckworth turns the whole classroom structure on its head by getting the students to sit in alphabetical order. This leaves Charlie away from her best friends and next to the class swot, James Edwards. The pair find it difficult to get on and the rivalry grows as the class are set a project on the Victorian Era. Charlie approaches the subject in her own way after finding the photo of a servant who looks like her. Inspired by this image, Charlie begins writing a diary from the perspective of a girl called Lottie. Lottie is about Charlie’s age and working as a servant in a big Victorian house. The more Charlie writes about Lottie, the more interested she becomes in the period. Will she finally end up impressing her teacher?
I always enjoyed history so I loved this book when I read it as a kid. We’d probably been learning about the Victorians at the time as well. I always remember preferring the Lottie chapters over the Charlie chapters. I guess I just didn’t see too much of myself in Charlie. So, I did wish that the book had been wholly written from Lottie’s perspective. These chapters are not only a lot of fun to read but they do offer an insight into the period. This is the kind of book that could very easily inspire a younger reader to learn more about history.
Reading it now, I really enjoyed the way that the chapters mirrored each other to show how Charlie used the project to face her own emotional struggles. However, I found the majority of Charlie’s narrative to be the same kind of thing we’ve seen all too often in Jacqueline Wilson’s books. Yes, we have a slightly different perspective but, without the diary, the story wouldn’t be a standout. Although, it definitely deals with issues that younger readers will recognise. Charlie’s jealousy of a new man entering her mother’s life is presented as understandable and I think the fact that Wilson avoids the fairytale ending is good.
Wilson has always had a good idea of what children want to read and the kind of issues that they face. She refuses to speak down to her audience which has sometimes gotten her in trouble with parents. Of course, it’s also what makes her such a hit with readers. I always appreciated the fact that she didn’t always write about over girly girls. As more of a tomboy growing up, I had read far too many books about princesses and girls I didn’t relate to. So characters like Charlie really stuck out to me. She isn’t obsessing over boys, she likes to write stories, and she felt very natural. Charlie isn’t the perfect little girl. She gets in trouble at school, talks back to her family, and is stubborn. The fact that children will see themselves in her means that the lessons Charlie learns will resonate even further.
I always worry when I go back to books I once loved because there’s always the chance that they won’t live up. I don’t think that this has ever happened with Jacqueline Wilson. She’s a fantastic children’s writer and has such a great ability to create an engaging narrative. Her books feel timeless and relevant no matter how old they are. No matter how old you are. She’s one of the writers who really helped my love of reading develop and I’ll always be grateful for the books I read growing up.