Hetty Feather ISBN: 9780440868354
Published by Corgi, 2010
This long, meaty novel gives a thorough picture of what life was like in Victorian times for children looked after in children's homes. Our heroine, Hetty Feather, is taken in by the Coram Foundling Hospital in London, and her early years up to the age of five are happy ones in a foster family who love her and look after her well. The scenes when she must be returned to the home are harrowing and all too real, and her fiery personality doesn't make things easy for her or for those looking after her, including a couple of matrons who are seriously mean to her to the point of abuse. Her high imagination means that she is convinced she has met her mother while attending a circus during her fostering years, and her tendency to act on her belief gets her into serious trouble and lost in London. Meeting with a young flower girl who takes her home, she discovers there are worse places live than the foundling home where she is at least fed and clothed and given an education of sorts. There is a wildly improbable happy ending, but we are happy for Hetty and the mother she has wanted for so long. There are two further books about Hetty so far: 'Sapphire Battersea' and 'Emerald Star', neither of which I have read, but I am sure they will appeal to nine or ten year olds quite as much as the original story. There is a wonderful museum in London called the Foundling Museum which is all about the children taken in there and which has many of the furnishings and pictures from the original building, removed some time ago. Wilson has portrayed with great faithfulness the conditions that sound appalling to our modern eyes, but which were considered kindness itself at the time. Modern children will thank their lucky stars that conditions in care and fostering are very different these days.