The Illustrated Mum

Author: Jaqueline Wilson
Reading Level: 5th and up

Pages: 282
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Edition: Hardcover, U.S., 2005 (1999)

So, after a year of hearing little exclaiming squeals from the library’s young readers (4th to 6th grade girls, mostly) telling their friends how amazing this book was and how much they loved, loved it — I finally got around to read it myself. Yes, indeed, the urgency, the dire situation that the two girls, Dolphin and Star live under (with their obviously very unbalanced, irresponsible and artistic mother,) and the sense of danger and injustice all contribute to a transfixing read.

However, mid-book, suddenly, the realism gives way to incredible coincidences. Incredible here means: not credible, not believable. And the ending leaves me quite puzzled. Is there a message that says, do not ever put your trust in the males in one’s life? Even a mother who needs to go through serious psychiatric treatment is better than the fathers who can offer more stable lives? What does the story wish to celebrate? or condemn? There is a hidden message there somewhere, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it! I don’t know what I actually expected, not quite like these TV-soap-melodrama twists, for sure. (I wonder how teachers in 4th grade think about Miss Hill who seems so clueless about the situation that Dolphin is in while there are so many outward signs that anyone working with 10-year-olds with some basic training would have picked up on right away — in Real Life.)

I guess there is the literary licence, and Wilson definitely uses it quite freely. Oh, I sound as if I did not enjoy the read or won’t recommend it to young readers. Not so, not so. I quite liked the book and I now know why my students like it, too!

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