Late last year, Marie Senechal sent out a tweet that struck a chord with a lot of Jacqueline Wilson fans.
Twitter came alive with ideas, with people weaving complicated stories about what happened to these girls and the type of people they grew up to be. While Jacqueline Wilson is still as popular with young readers as ever, the first generation of young girls weaned on her books have grown up; they have jobs, some of them are even mothers, keen to hand down the books that shaped their childhoods to their own kids. And, for a lot of women, that means introducing them to The Story Of Tracy Beaker.
Inspired by this, Jacqueline Wilson has decided that, after 27 years, it’s time to revive the much-beloved character in her forthcoming book, My Mum Tracy Beaker. But it’s not just for the fans – in an interview with The Observer, Wilson admits, “Tracy has been a character that’s haunted me. She’s the sort of person who sticks in your mind.”
Wilson explained that she came up with the idea after seeing mothers encouraging their children to read the book that meant so much to them when they were growing up. “When I realised just how long ago it was since I wrote the first Tracy Beaker book, I thought: if we were in real time, Tracy herself would be in her thirties. And I’ve always thought that, even though Tracy had lots of problems in her life and a pretty rubbish mum who was never there for her, Tracy herself would be a good mum, no matter what.”
In the original book, illustrated by Nick Sharratt, Tracy was a plucky 10-year-old girl being raised in “the dumping ground” of a care home. Now, almost 30 years later, she’s a single mother trying her best to raise her daughter on a rough housing estate in modern-day London – much like the one Wilson grew up on. Wilson wanted the plot to be realistic, explaining, “How many young women without much education earn enough, with a daughter, to be able to buy their own home in London today? Being Tracy, she wants to be independent, but with a child, how can she be? So she’s having to scratch around.” The book will be narrated by Jess, Tracy’s nine-year-old daughter, and will once again be illustrated by Sharratt.
Back in the 90s, the only books for girls were exclusively about princesses and ballerinas and came wrapped in a bright pink cover. But Tracy was different – we knew Tracy, we understood Tracy, we were Tracy
While My Mum Tracy Beaker will predominantly be aimed at 7- to 11-year-olds, Wilson hopes that teenagers and adults will be able to enjoy it, too: “A knowing teenager or an adult will read something and understand it, while it will go straight over Jess’s head.”
When news of the sequel hit the internet, there was a giddy, childlike quality about the response. Jacqueline Wilson has written 107 books, all with interesting, dynamic female characters – so, what made Tracy Beaker the one that nestled into the hearts of an entire generation of young women? I think it has something to do with her pluck, her grit, her mouthiness, her determination. I remember sitting cross-legged in our local bookshop, inhaling Tracy’s story, wishing she could climb out of the pages and come live with me in my yellow house in the outer suburbs of Sydney.
Thankfully, today’s bookshops are groaning under the weight of feminist books for young girls, but back in the 90s, the only books for girls were exclusively about princesses and ballerinas and came wrapped in a bright pink cover. But Tracy was different – we knew Tracy, we understood Tracy, we were Tracy. But, while this made her a cult figure in young girls’ hearts, publishers weren’t always as convinced, meaning Wilson had a hard time selling the rights to the story. “It was very much felt that she wasn’t pretty, she wasn’t good,” Wilson explained. Tracy told people to “bog off”. She was confident: “This is a book all about me. I'd read it if I were you. It's the most incredible dynamic heart-rending story. Honest.” She didn’t know how much she weighed and her hair was “dark and difficult” and stuck up in “all the wrong places”. In short, she was nothing like the young girls we were told to aspire to be.
The reception to Wilson’s announcement reminded me of the scene in You’ve Got Mail, where Meg Ryan is explaining the importance of children’s books to Tom Hanks: “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”
Wilson’s not entirely sure what’s going to happen to Tracy at the end of the book – on one hand, she doesn’t want an “absolutely everything is quite wonderful” ending. However, like the rest of us, Wilson has a soft spot for Tracy: “She is my lucky character... She’s going to get her happy ending.”
My Mum Tracy Beaker will be published in October 2018