Inspired by the London Foundling Museum, this is the first historical novel by the hugely popular Jacqueline Wilson. It tells the story of Hetty Feather, who, as a baby in 1876, is placed in the care of the London Foundling Hospital, a home for abandoned children. Hetty spends her early childhood with a loving foster family but longs to know her natural mother. One day she becomes entranced by Madame Adeline, a circus performer, and is convinced this must be her mother. But then Hetty has to go and live at the Hospital and train to be a servant.
As headstrong Hetty adjusts to life under a strict, institutional regime she often finds herself at odds with the staff and other girls. She survives with the help of some good friends and never forgets her mission to find her mother.
This is an absorbing read, combining historical detail and modern themes. Primarily for girls aged 8-12, it is the story of one child’s search for belonging. Sad in places, the book deals with some of the hardships of Victorian life without being overly sentimental or too graphic. Though the first section of the book is rather long at over 100 pages, it is worth sticking with to reach the moving depiction of life for a small child in a Victorian institution.