My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s been a while since I read one of Jacqueline Wilson’s books. I went through a phase of them when I got access to a new library (I say that like I was a burglar, but trust me I was legitimate and had a ticket and everything). They had shelves and shelves full of Jacqueline Wilson’s work, and it was a heady rush to get to read them all. Wilson is one of the great dames of British children’s literature and one that exists in a curious absence. It is an absence that characterises both her and similar popular authors, an absence of critical approval and mainstream awards. Of course Wilson has won awards, and plenty of them, and has been longlisted for the Carnegie, but her work exists in a sort of popular bubble of otherness. This isn’t new in British children’s literature: JK Rowling, Enid Blyton, etc, etc, but it is marked. There are times when I wonder if we know how to handle popular fiction in this country (Let me talk to you at some point of Twilight and of how popular does not necessarily equal the death of all things …).
The Butterfly Club is deeply charming in that way that Wilson has. The consistent markers of her work are a charming, genuine sympathy both with her protagonists but also with the other characters in the story. She’s known, too, for integrating a diverse range of issues into her work and The Butterfly Club is no exception. In one neatly constructed narrative that bowls along with abandon, it deals with social class, health, school worries, and friendship.
I will admit that I was concerned at how certain elements of the class related issue was portrayed in the illustrations as they felt markedly simplistic in how they portrayed the different people involved. A sort of shorthanded visual stereotype. It’s difficult to explain and, in a way, I wonder if it’s because of the nature of the reading I give these texts. I am an adult, reading from a very privileged and distinct context, and so I mention this reaction but I do not deny the great appeal of this book. And I do not deny the great appeal and wonder of Sharratt’s vibrant and dynamic work; he draws his characters with such rich and lovely thick lines that it’s hard to not love them.
One particular piece of joy for The Butterfly Club is the way it highlights Tina’s scientific knowledge and interest in butterflies and how this helps to form a connection between her and others. Wilson handles it so well and positions it as such a source of pride within Tina, that it’s deeply inspiring and rather lovely.There’s also a delicious character cameo within the final sequence of the book that will make fans of Wilson’s former titles deeply happy. I like what Wilson does, I really do. She finds the heart of everything she does, and this book is no exception. It is full of such heart.