Author Jacqueline Wilson is 'against meddling with adult classics'

Tracy Beaker author Jacqueline Wilson is ‘against meddling with adult classics’ as she wades into censorship row – but admits she would not write one of her own children’s books today

  • Author says themes in classics can seem out of place but should be left alone
  • But Dame Jacqueline, 77, added that she is for editing some children’s books 

Tracy Beaker author Dame Jacqueline Wilson has revealed she is against ‘meddling with adult classics’ as she spoke out against controversial woke rewrites of books.

The 77-year-old celebrated British novelist said that while many of the themes in classic literature can seem out of place in modern society, they should be left alone.

She cited the ‘mad woman in the attic’ in Jane Eyre as an example, saying someone with serious mental health issues would not be depicted in the same way now.

But Dame Jacqueline added that she was for editing some children’s books because youngsters ‘still haven’t got the power to sort things out and have a sense of history’.

It comes after she admitted she would not have her written her 2005 book Love Lessons about a 14-year-old girl falling in love with her art teacher, who reciprocates.

Dame Jacqueline Wilson speaks about censorship on ITV’s Good Morning Britain today

Richard Madeley and Kate Garraway speak to Jacqueline Wilson on Good Morning Britain

Dame Jacqueline has spoken out about censorship and cancel culture in recent days while promoting her new book ‘The Best Sleepover In the World’, out on Thursday.

How Roald Dahl, Enic Blyton and Agatha Christie books have been rewritten for modern audiences

The editing of stories by authors such as Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl has become the subject of much debate in recent years. Classic books from much-loved but controversial writers have been rewritten to cater for the sensitivities of modern audiences. Here are some examples:

Roald Dahl: The Roald Dahl Story Company and Puffin Books carried out a review of Dahl’s classics which led to the removal or rewriting of content deemed offensive – including references to weight, mental health, violence, gender and race. Among the changes included removing the words ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’, with Mrs Twit in The Twits no longer ‘ugly and beastly’ but now just ‘beastly’. And Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is now referred to as ‘enormous’.

Enid Blyton: Blyton, the author of beloved book series including The Famous Five, Noddy and Malory Towers, has been criticised for racism and xenophobia in her books and her novels have been the subject to ‘sensitive text revisions’. Publisher Hodder edited Blyton’s works to replace words like ‘queer’ and ‘gay’ and was said to have altered other phrases such as ‘shut up’ and ‘don’t be an idiot’.

Agatha Christie: Some of the author’s novels have been rewritten to eliminate phrases that have been deemed insensitive or inappropriate. Several of the passages in Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries are said to have been reworked or stripped altogether from new editions. Publisher HarperCollins eliminated text containing ‘insults or references to ethnicity’, as well as descriptions of certain characters’ physiques.

On ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB) today, presenter Richard Madeley spoke to her about ‘publishers who are altering the text of books because they think that times have changed so much that it’s sort of damaging for children to read how we lived then’.

Asked for her view, Dame Jacqueline responded: ‘I’m a kind of middle of the road person, I think it depends how it’s done.

‘There are some things I think that would make us a bit worried if we returned to our old children’s favourites and read them with fresh eyes, we might be a bit surprised.

‘I think with children, they often absorb texts, they still haven’t got the power to sort things out and have a sense of history.

‘However I’m very against meddling with adult classics. I was just thinking about Jane Eyre the other day, I mean with the ‘mad woman in the attic’ and the way she’s depicted.

‘You’d never find that sort of treatment of people with serious mental health problems. And yet, you know, I would be absolutely at the forefront of people saying no, leave it alone, it’s my favourite book. So I think it depends.’

Among the well-known books censored in recent years to remove language now deemed inappropriate have been Agatha Christie’s novels, titles by Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Malory Towers books and Ian Fleming’s James Bond series.

Dame Jacqueline was also asked about cancel culture on GMB today, and said: ‘I’m of the old school. I think why can’t everybody just talk things over, discuss things? You don’t have to agree with someone, but I think it’s more helpful to actually get to the bottom of what’s making people so angry.

‘But whether I’d feel that in the midst of a baying crowd or not, I don’t know. I mean, life’s changed so much. It’s good that people can make it clear what they feel, but I do think a little bit of discussion…’

She also backed recent calls for children to develop their ‘oracy’, which aims to help them become more articulate, and assemble their ideas and express them.

Dame Jacqueline’s comments today came after she gave an interview to The Guardian last week in which she spoke of her concerns over her book Love Lessons.

The book sees 14-year-old Prue fall in love with an art teacher – before they kiss, and he says he loves her as well.

Dame Jacqueline Wilson with her partner Trish at The Savoy Hotel in London in July 2017

Dame Jacqueline Wilson with Danielle Harmer, who played Tracy Beaker in the BBC TV adaptation of her 1999 book, The Story of Tracy Beaker

Tracy Beaker was a huge hit for BBC children’s television and spawned a number of spin-offs

Asked if she would write the book today, she said: ‘No. It’s so different now. Well, I did have my doubts then.’

And when the interviewer pointed out that Prue would now be seen as a victim and the teacher as a paedophile, Dame Jacqueline said: ‘Yes, that’s very true. And it does change things around so much.’

It comes after research by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals released in April found that a third of librarians had been asked by members of the public to censor or remove books, particularly on themes involving empire, race and LGBTQ+ themes.

There is a similar issue in America, where writers’ organisation Pen America said in the same month that book bans in US public schools rose by 28 per cent in the first half of the 2022/23 academic year. Again, race and LGBTQ+ themes were prominent in many of the banned books.

Former Children’s Laureate Dame Jacqueline has sold more than 40 million books.

Last year she published The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure, a re-imagining of Blyton’s story about three children who discover enchanted lands at the top of an enormous tree.

Her latest book is The Best Sleepover in the World, a sequel to her 2001 bestseller Sleepovers.

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