It’s 1953, Coronation year. Elsie Kettle lives with her Nan – her unreliable mother is a chorus girl and rarely at home – but Elsie doesn’t mind too much; Nan is her favourite person in all the world and they plan to see the coronation together. It will make up for the spiteful children and teachers at school who look down on her. But disaster strikes: both fall ill with TB. Elsie is parted from Nan and taken to the children’s ward of a Sanatorium to face a long, painful treatment. How will she cope with the strict regime and no news from Nan? In spite of her promises, her mother seldom visits and, when she does come, she’s entirely self-centred.
Help comes from unexpected quarters. There’s the beautiful snow-white ward cat, Queenie, who takes a special liking to Elsie; and Nurse Gabriel who’s so kind; and then Elsie discovers that she can tell stories which enthral the other children. For the first time in her life, she has real friends. As Coronation Day draws near, there is another surprise: the children’s ward will have a Very Special Visitor.
Jacqueline Wilson has the gift of being able to get inside a lonely child’s head. We experience both Elsie’s vulnerability and her pragmatism. She’s matter of fact about her Mum and all the ‘uncles’ who come and go, but she’s also liable to make mistakes through ignorance and misunderstanding which get her into trouble. An illegitimate child who lives with an ailing grandmother in poor circumstances is always going to be at a disadvantage, and Jacqueline Wilson doesn’t pull her punches. But she also knows what’s important: love. Elsie loves her Nan, and, in her absence, she comes to love Nurse Gabriel and Queenie. Highly recommended for girls of eight plus.