Hetty Feather’s Christmas

Written by Jacqueline Wilson
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

It is 1888, and London’s Foundling Hospital, run by Matron Bottomly, is a grim place, even on Christmas Day. Twelve-year-old Hetty Feather has been locked in a dark cupboard for bad behaviour. Fortunately, one of the new governors, Miss Smith, rescues her and takes her out to visit Mr Rivers, a Bohemian artist friend of hers.

For Hetty, Mr Rivers’ house is a magic Arabian Nights’ world. There’s a brightly decorated Christmas tree, coloured paper chains and a mistletoe ball. The house is full of marvellous things, including a stuffed peacock, and huge blue and white jars. The Christmas tea is delicious with pancakes, patties, brandy snaps, ice cream and Christmas cake. Afterwards there are Christmas crackers and games, like Blindman’s Buff and Charades. But there are tensions under the opulence. Not all the Rivers children are happy, and Mrs Rivers is not pleased to see Hetty; Foundling children should be in the kitchen with the servants, in her view. Hetty isn’t altogether comfortable.

This is a Christmas treat, ‘stocking-filler’ book, for Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather fans. I loved the over the top Victorian Christmas tea which Charles Dickens would have approved of. And Mr Rivers’ artist home might have belonged to Laurence Alma-Tadema, R. A., with fellow-artist Lord Leighton’s stuffed peacock thrown in for good measure.

I enjoyed the ‘All the Trimmings’ section at the end about Victorian Christmases, and tips on things to do and make, inspired by the book. Girls of nine plus should love this book.