As a child, I lived for the words Jacqueline Wilson wrote—every single sentence jumped into my sense of self. Wilson taught me a lot about the world, but I didn’t realise that until I was recently standing in a bookshop, looking at a hardback copy of her latest work, and a whack of nostalgia hit me right in the chest.
I’ve done some research and it appears that I lived my Wilson Years between 1997 and 2002, when I was between 7 and 12 years old. I have clear memories of all of the books I read and, after my book shop visit, I thumbed back through a few to fulfill the weird nostalgic loneliness I had in my heart for Tracy Beaker, Ruby and Garnett, Treasure and India—my Wilson friends.
Below is a rundown of the real-life lessons I learned from Jacqueline Wilson, which I still use in daily life. Also, all of these covers have changed since I was a child and it’s so lovely to see the updates. Nick Sharatt’s illustrations are as amazing now as they were in 1997.
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I’ve always loved bees. To my father’s chagrin, I got my first tattoo when I was 22 years old–a honey bee on the left side of my back. It hurt, but the moment I saw the bee in the mirror, I loved him.
The bee has now been with me for five years and to celebrate the anniversary, I popped by a tattoo studio in London and had him upgraded, adding colour, lengthening wings and overall making him a little more organic. I love the tattoo just as much as I did before, but now it’s brighter and looks more ‘complete’, for want of a better word.
When I was 20 (and 21), I went through a horrible few months of depression and anxiety. It was a rotten time that I hope never to re-live again. Every day was a battle to just get out of bed and get through the day. It was miserable. On my 21st birthday, a friend of mine gave me a little silver chain with a bee hanging from it. Bees, she told me, are hardworking, self sufficient, intelligent and strong. She said the moment she saw it, it reminded her of me.
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Iceland is veritably tiny, with a population of just under 330,000 people living on its fierce volcanic land mass in the North Atlantic. A tiny part of Iceland (a coastal island) trespasses into the Arctic Circle and its capital Reykjavik is the northernmost capital city in the world.
Perhaps due to their geographical location, their isolation, the long winter nights and cold seasons (as well as those volcanoes and the ice!), Icelanders read and publish more books per capita than most other countries in the world. Reading seems to be inherent to the Icelandic psyche and the country has a literacy rate of a perfect 100%.
I was wandering through the annals of yet another bookshop and had a chance to see a lot of the Penguin Black Classics collection. Celebrating the 80th year of Penguin, there were initially 80 books sold for 80p each. They ranged across a myriad of topics and recently, a further 46 have been added.
Standing in front of them (and adding some to my already full arms..) I got to thinking about the best short books I’ve read and how sometimes, we don’t need a lot of works to make a good point.
I had real trouble coming up with a headline for this one, so let me explain as best I can. You know those books you read that transport you to other places in such a way that you really feel you’re living in them? You look up after a few chapters and realise that you’re still on your couch in your yoga pants and haven’t actually left the room at all? Those books.When words can transport me to another place in a significant way, somehow the book always ends up in my favourites list.
This year, I decided to step outside my comfort zone when it came to reading and challenge myself a little. I decided to go back to the classics. You know, the ones with those beautiful Penguin classics covers, or the ones you can get on Amazon for almost nothing. You know the ones I’m talking about- the sort of book they either made you read in school (resulting in casual resentment) or the ones you struggled through in university (more resentment)- or indeed, the one tome gifted to your parents by Great Aunt Mildred, which your mother has been using a doorstop since the 1970s.
The classics have a bad reputation for being mean, fastidious and immovable beasts of burden. They are vastly the product of male authors (with notable exceptions) and therefore the cultural context they present might be seen as old-fashioned, or even periodic.
Bookshops in other countries can be completely beautiful- and because we don’t necessarily speak the same language, it would be easy to forego them and visit different stores, sites, or landmarks. I think we often see lists of famous bookshops, but this year I’ve managed to actually peek inside quite a few!
In September, I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Argentina and Uruguay with a friend. Needless to say, my Kindle was almost the first thing I packed. I’d never been to South America before so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I planned to read a little, but accidentally (as always) ended up reading quite a lot.
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When I first moved to London, I lived in this weird panacea, which only existed in my head. I thought the morning (and evening) Tube rushes were delightfully whimsical- and that the platforms full of shoving, sweaty Tube-dwellers were a modern transportation miracle.
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Note: Patrons for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were asked to #KeeptheSecrets, and I’m a good Secret Keeper: there are no spoilers here. However, you may wish to avoid this article if you want to see or read the play with absolutely no background information.
In July 1999 my father read to me a small article in a national newspaper about a book called Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He (a teacher) said kids in his school talked about it. I asked him if I could read it. He came home a while later with a hardback copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which I chomped in a day. A few days later, we were in a local bookshop and a copy of Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s Stone was in the bargain bucket for £3.
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