Jacqueline Wilson: you can make wonderful friends when you read

Published on: 09 December 2016 Author: Sophie Offord

Dame Jacqueline Wilson, children's author extraordinaire, tells us about the friendships she's liked best in books - and how those friends are just as important as real ones.

Jacqueline Wilson

One of my favourite books as a child was a little known book by an American author, Mary Bard. It was called Best Friends - and it was that title that made me want the book passionately. In fact, many years later, I borrowed it for one of my own books. I've long since lost my own copy of the original Best Friends but I can remember it was a story about two girls called Susie and Coco.

They used to play in a special treehouse where they kept their books and stories and drawings and they told each other all their secrets and had sleepovers at each other's house. Nothing much actually happened, but it was these humdrum details that totally satisfied me. I had best friends in real life, but we didn't discuss books or write or draw together, and we certainly didn't share a treehouse.

Eating potatoes with a spoon

I've always liked reading about friendship in children's books. As a small girl, I loved the gentle domestic tales of Milly-Molly-Mandy by Joyce Lankester Brisley.

My favourite passage in the first book was when little-friend-Susan comes to Milly-Molly-Mandy's cottage for an overnight visit and they have their baths together as if they were sisters, and then sit cosily in front of the fire and eat jacket potatoes with a spoon.

Milly Molly MandyWhen my daughter Emma was little, one of her favourite books was Little Bear's Friend by Else Holmelund Minarik, wonderfully illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Little Bear makes friends with a child called Emily and helps her when she's lost.

There's a glorious picture of Little Bear with his hands clasped on his head, his eyes shut, all puffed up with joy and pride that he has a special friend.

Friends with fairies

Children's books are full of the most touching friendships. I was taken to see Peter Pan at the theatre when I was about seven, and then read the book Peter and Wendy by J M Barrie with delight.

Peter Pan and Wendy are great friends of course, but I was actually much more interested in the friendship between Peter and Tinkerbell, his feisty little fairy. Peter patronises her and doesn't understand when she's jealous of his infatuation with Wendy - but Tink is such an amazing friend, she willingly drinks poison to save his life.

A Little Princess

Another Edwardian children's book about memorable friendships is A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Sara Crewe's life is turned upside down when she's no longer the cosseted rich girl at school, reduced to a half-starved skivvy. Her relationship with school friend Ermengarde is affected, but they manage to make it up and become even closer.

Sara also has a loyal friend in the servant waif Becky and makes sure she's well looked after at the end of the book. There's something uncomfortably Lady Bountiful about Sara wanting to provide buns for all hungry street-children, but it's touching nevertheless.

Asleep in each other's arms

I think the friendship that's haunted me most is in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. It's obviously an adult classic, but I first read the chapters about Jane's childhood when I was ten. Jane is sent to the bleak strict Lowood school and makes friends with gentle, studious Helen Burns. The girls comfort each other when they are unfairly punished and become extremely close.

Jane is distraught when Helen is dying and goes to find her. They spend the night in each other's arms. This chapter reduced me to tears - it still does.

Athough I get a little irritated nowadays at Helen's resignation and saintliness. What is it about the name Helen? Cousin Helen in What Katy Did is another unbelievably holy girl.

Fictional friends forever

The Katy books by Susan Coolidge are full of interesting friendships, with Cecy next door, and Katy's sudden crush on the inappropriate Imogen Clark, and then at school there's saucy Rose who's the sort of lively best friend we'd all like to have.

That's the best thing about being a bookworm - you can have all these fictional friends as well as your own real friends, and feel doubly blessed.

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