Daily Archives: November 12, 2012

Review of Four Children and It by Jacqueline Wilson


This modern makeover of E. Nesbitt’s classic story Five Children and It, could have been a wincingly purile dumbing down of a much-loved gem in children’s literature. But, of course it is in the hands of the very capable and experienced Jacqueline Wilson…

4childrenWe have been reading Wilson in our household since my granddaughter, reeling from her parents’ separation, seemed to need stories that reflected her own devastating experience. Her books were an immediate hit – and when I saw this book on the shelves, I couldn’t resist it…

Rosalind and Robbie don’t want to spend the summer stuck in their dad’s new house with irritating Smash and her glamorous mum. Dad’s biggest wish is for everyone to get along. So when he suggests a picnic in nearby Oxshott Woods the children grudgingly agree. That afternoon, in a golden sandpit, Rosalind makes a wish of her own and something extraordinary happens. It just might change their summer from weeks of rows and bickering into the best holiday these four children have ever had…

Rosalind and Robbie are part of a modern blended family – their step-sister, Smash, takes delight in tormenting them. In fact, the only thing they can all agree on, is that little Maudie, Dad and Alice’s daughter, is an absolute poppet – but that leads to squabbles over which of her half-siblings she prefers. Wilson’s unflinching depiction of what marital breakdown means to the children caught in the middle should be required reading for all divorced and separated parents.

Wilson’s storytelling doesn’t dodge the sadness – we both found the story quite emotional in places. But there are also places where we were laughing aloud. Smash’s comments were often astutely amusing – especially about the adults. As for the adventures that involve the four children – they are suitably madcap and Wilson’s sharp, pacey style made them compelling – I read aloud one afternoon for nearly two hours, because neither of us wanted to stop until we knew what happened next… But there is a big bonus for Wilson’s readers – she doesn’t only provide an engrossing, enjoyable story. Each of the main characters in the story is depicted with compassion, some humour and a large dollop of understanding – it’s a very neat trick to pull off. So many children’s books have the adults behaving like absolute idiots or tyrants – and while Wilson’s grown-ups often get it wrong, there is generally a sense that they are trying hard to do their best in difficult circumstances. It also means that while Wilson portrays the children as getting the raw end of the deal, she resists making them into total victims – and while she doesn’t have their parents magically getting back together, which is generally what most children would like to see, she does provide a shaft of hope that everything is going to get better.

Having recently re-read the original story, Five Children and It, I was struck by how much each magical adventure seemed to conclude with some moral lesson for Edwardian children. I can’t help thinking that Wilson’s trick of offering real comfort for children confronted with major family upheaval a far more valuable gift.