When I was younger, I loved Jacqueline Wilson's books. I practically devoured them, reading and reading my dog-eared copies until the spines split. I wanted to be her characters: Eliza from The Bed and Breakfast Star, Ruby from Double Act (although I was probably more a Garnet), Tracey Beaker in the dumping group, and even Lottie from the Lottie project.
Now I'm a twenty-something year old, I've obviously grown out of that. Of course. Now, I've realised that who I really want to be is Jaqueline Wilson herself.
This was a really lovely and well-chosen collection of stories and extracts about dogs and cats. I myself am more of a cat person than a dog person, so I had a natural swing to enjoy those stories more. But I still loved the dog stories, particularly the extract from “The Incredible Journey.” It was really moving.
One concern I had about this novel was that reading only short snippets from stories would feel so incomplete that no satisfaction could be gained. Luckily, I was mostly wrong with this feeling, as I knew most of the books they came from: One Hundred and One Dalmations, Just William, Dick King Smith... I haven't read Jean Ure's novel Ice Lolly and this particular extract was unsatisfying for me. It left you with too many questions; questions can be very good, but this was too much. I was delighted to see The Cat That Walked by Itself; it has inspired me to reread Just So Stories.
The first story, Jacqueline's own, was lovely, and her oh-so-familiar and comforting authorial voice shone through. I liked Leonie, and it was a very complete short story – I wasn't left feeling cheated. Amongst the old favourites were some unexpected surprises: I never knew that Ian McEwan wrote for children! (Note to self: must find out more!) I was also shocked to see the Patrick Ness' extract from Chaos Walking, as the rest of the stories were aimed at much younger children. I would feel uncomfortable with a young child reading Ness' books because, brilliant though they are, they are very violent. It seemed a little out of place to me.
Nick Sharratt's illustrations were similarly comforting, memories of reading by torchlight in tents and gobbling down books in some vague fear that they might leave if I didn't! It was odd to see Nick Sharratt's drawings in place of the traditional pictures for some of these stories (One Hundred and One Dalmations, Alice Through the Looking Glass) but I enjoyed the change. I also loved the cover under the dust jacket!
Overall, a wonderful anthology, and for a very worthy cause. It will appeal to animal lovers of nearly any age, anyone who knows about the bond you can feel to a dog or cat. Very enjoyable. And a proportion of royalties all go to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home - you get to feel virtuous through reading!
Now, excuse me while I go away to find a copy of Just So Stories...
Note: I was given a pre-publication copy of this for free, but all opinions expressed are my own.