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How the Big Issue steered Tracy Beaker's story

Jacqueline Wilson explains why a meeting arranged by The Big Issue changed her mind about what Tracy did next

Jacqueline Wilson wrote The Story of Tracy Beaker in 1991 and the subsequent series has now spanned generations. More than 3.5 million Beaker books have been sold and the CBBC adaptation is the channel’s most popular programme. Last year, Wilson published My Mum Tracy Beaker but some readers were disappointed that Tracy becoming a single parent in a council estate confirmed negative stereotypes of care-experienced people and denied her the happy ever-after fans hoped for.

So The Big Issue set up a meeting between Wilson and care-experienced young people from voluntary organisation Who Cares? Scotland. Wilson was bowled over by their bravery and hinted that it might spell a different path for her heroine.

The Big Issue: What was that meeting like with the young people who had experience of growing up in care?

Jacqueline Wilson: I’ve met many young people who are care-leavers, and also children currently in care. However, last year’s meeting was particularly interesting. They asked some challenging questions about my book My Mum Tracy Beaker, saying they wished Tracy had a dynamic successful career so she could change people’s ideas about what looked-after children can achieve. I know full well that some young care-leavers are shining aspirational role models – in the book, one of the characters from Tracy’s past is a headteacher, and another has set up her own business – but Tracy was never the sort of girl who would study and work hard!

She is a fantastic mother to her daughter Jess, though. And in We Are the Beaker Girls Tracy has a surprising new career. I’ve dedicated my new book to those young Scottish care-leavers I met last year. I thought they were fantastic and I was so touched when they gave me a scarf of their own special tartan.

Did they influence the new book?

Yes. I did my best to act on some of their suggestions, and my publishers sent the page proofs to them for their comments.

In We Are the Beaker Girls, what makes Tracy think about fostering?

Her daughter Jess makes friends with a young person who has had some troubling experiences and has now run away. Tracy starts to wonder if she could train as a foster carer herself and provide the loving stable care that she received as a child.

Since you started writing about Tracy Beaker and The Dumping Ground in 1991, have you seen provision for children in care change?

Yes, I have. I think it’s particularly important that young people themselves are now listened to carefully – but it’s still impossible to provide the perfect forever home for every single child. However, the ones I have met are mostly happy, secure and delightful.

Growing up in care is one thing – leaving care is another. What support does there need to be for young people moving on?

We seem to be far more aware nowadays that support networks are certainly needed. Universities are trying harder to provide access courses and to give accommodation to care-leaving students for 365 days a year. There are special internships available for care-leavers in various organisations. I’m especially pleased that the Foundling Museum does this [Wilson has written several books about a foundling child].

How can the hope we have for Tracy to live happily ever after be balanced with the need to reflect real life?

She definitely has a very happy ending in the new book – and I think it is reflecting real life.  I’ll be interested to see what
people think!

How important is it for children to read and learn about experiences that they relate to – but that are also outside their range of experiences?

It’s very important. I’ve been very touched by children in care saying they felt Tracy was like a friend, and they loved it when other children at school suddenly seemed impressed that they had led a life similar to Tracy’s. It’s also been great that children brought up in very stable families with no real drama in their lives can see what it’s like to be whisked away from a home environment to a new family or care home. The long-running television series can make being in care look great fun, but they also tackle sad emotional situations that show children what it can really be like.

With all the distractions of modern life for kids and adults, are children reading and being read to enough?

I think most parents want their children to be keen readers, but I think it mostly works if we read aloud to our two- and three-year-olds, making it a really fun experience, and then carry on with these sessions even when a child can read comfortably by themselves. Then they can curl up with a book by themselves but also relax and have the luxury of listening. Of course, it’s all a matter of time now, and fitting everything in, especially in the evening when parents and carers are shattered, but reading should be a truly enjoyable experience for everyone. Well, I think it is – but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

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