Stop the world, I want to get off. On 10 March, it was announced that Tracy Beaker has grown up and become a single mum, in a sequel to Jacqueline Wilson’s beloved trilogy aimed at adults and teenagers as well as preteens. And now it’s been announced that Raymond Briggs’s Snowman is flying towards a similar fate with a retelling by the (admittedly admirable) Michael Morpurgo that will transport the chubby, satsuma-nosed heart-melter to a “chapter book” for “a new and older audience”.
A chapter book! I ask you! The whole point of The Snowman is that there are no words. He exists in the magical storytelling space that enfolds parents and the smallest children, who are just beginning to find a vocabulary to harness their chaotic, ardent emotions to the communal world of storytelling. When the Snowman tucks Arthur under his arm (obviously it’s Arthur, that’s my son’s name) and carries him high above the rooftops, it is to show him the world so he can describe it for himself. All these years on, my eyes well up thinking about it (though a friend who’s still in the pre-school zone thinks the odd word might be nice: “I know interraction’s the point, but sometimes you just want to zone out while you read…”
Then there’s Tracy Beaker. Different child, different age group, but as the mother of a one-time uber-fan, I spent years hanging out by proxy with this witty, scratchy care-home kid, along with Bed and Breakfast Star, the Suitcase Kid and Dolphin, the girl with the excessively illustrated mum. Wilson’s stories of brave children surviving against the longest of odds brought debate to our dinner table and – sometimes – tears before bed.
The new book, Wilson revealed, will be narrated from the perspective of Jess, daughter of Tracy, who is now a single mum living on a housing estate. The novel will be aimed at her traditional seven-to-11-year-old fanbase and at the grownups many of them have become in the 27 years since Tracy’s first appearance. “A knowing teenager or an adult will read something and understand it, while it will go straight over Jess’s head,” she said.
I am appalled. I know JK Rowling and Philip Pullman have managed this transition successfully, ageing their child heroes into adulthood to highly lucrative effect. But Harry Potter just grew that way, and His Dark Materials was never purely literature for children, while the whole point of Wilson’s novels is that they, defiantly, gloriously are.
“It’s certainly a chunky, meaty book,” Wilson said of her new project. But consider the economy of this, from the opening pages of the first Beaker book:
Things I like
My lucky number is seven. So why didn’t I get fostered by a fantastic rich family when I was seven then?
My favourite colour is blood red, so watch out, ha-ha.
My best friend is Well, I’ve had heaps and heaps, but Louise has gone off with Justine and now I haven’t got anyone just at the moment.
It fits the whole world of a seven-to-11-year-old on to the head of a pin, sharply and apparently effortlessly encapsulating what Freud called the latency stage – the passionate friendships, the devastating betrayals, the growing disillusion with mum and dad. (That “now I haven’t got anyone just at the moment” is almost Beckettian in its use of syntax to convey pathos.)
How can I quote it? Because I still have the book – alongside Peter Pan, The Little White Horse and The Snowman – as a memento of a precious period of family life. My children passed through it without looking back, but I like to return every now and then, as I’m sure they will too, one day, if they have children of their own. When they do, they will see it differently.
So please, Tracy Beaker, never grow up. You’re perfect just the way you are.