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This issue’s cover illustration by Helen Oxenbury is from Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox (Walker, 978 1 4063 1592 9, £10.99 hbk). Helen Oxenbury writes about her illustration here. Thanks to Walker Books for their help with this January cover.
Beauty Cookson is a chubby girl who attends an exclusive primary school. Her mother adores her but, with a violent father, Beauty lives in a mixed climate of love and terror.
Beauty’s father is a tyrannical imposer of rules, one of which is an absolute veto on pets. The scene is set for a disastrous confrontation when at Beauty’s birthday party her friend’s birthday gift is a rabbit. Her father wastes no time getting rid of the pet, a move which finally prompts mother and daughter to flee.
Wilson’s language, as ever, is easy and colloquial, expert at addressing complex and frightening issues in everyday language. But there is a downside. Beauty’s mother seems too weak, too incapable of defending herself against marital aggression. She is, as it were, acted off the stage by the menacing figure of her husband.
However, with the skill that is now familiar to us, Wilson also exposes the vindictiveness that young girls can manifest towards each other. She also understands the anguish young people experience trying to come to terms with their own body image. Sharratt shows a blend of delicacy and exuberance that allows him to depict all too precisely Wilson’s darker themes.