Claire Barker, author of the Picklewitch and Jack series on Wobbly Friendships
One of the most telling moments in my author visits is when I ask the children to think about their best friends; about how great they are. Then I ask them if they ever… you know…get on their nerves?
Straightaway a giggle races around the room like a loose thread and I know we are on familiar ground. It’s an acknowledgement of something we all know; that bumps are par for the course and that true friendship can weather differences. In fact, these differences might be the very reason that you get on in the first place, one half complimenting the other. From Peter and Wendy to Hermione and Ron; opposites in children’s literature act as terrific foils for a writer, throwing character traits into sharp relief. These relationships are fireworks waiting to explode between the pages, ready to whizz, crack and delight. Tension is entertaining.
Picklewitch and Jack certainly appear to be a very unlikely union. The series opens with Jack being dead set on finding a ‘suitable’ friend, someone as tidy, logical, obedient and polite as him. Instead he gets lumbered with Picklewitch whose favourite saying is ‘NOBODY tells ME what to do BECUZ . . .I DUZ what I LIKES and I LIKES what I DUZ OH YES! She blurts out fudgenuts on a regular basis, lives in a tree and spins mischievous magic out of thin air. She’s determined to be Jack’s friend whether he likes it or not. Some would say it wasn’t the ideal start.
But they have more in common than it might at first seem. Most importantly they are both on a quest to find the same thing: a best friend.
Jack is good at many things (quadratic equations, general knowledge) but finds the dance of friendship perplexing. For all of Picklewitch’s bravado, she has only ever had the birds for company and her resulting social skills are, to say the least, limited. To put it simply, they are both odd, they are both difficult and they are both lonely. In an Instagram-infused world where relationship perfection is encouraged, their wobbly friendship has more ups and downs than a lighthouse staircase. But over time it becomes a very special and loyal partnership, yin to yang, nut to shell. She encourages him to be fearless and he does his best to shield her from harm. The sum is greater than the parts.
The third book in the series is against the background of a school visit to Lyme Regis and a fossil hunting trip. There is to be a prize for the best find – a top of the range Bonestar fossil hammer. A huge fan of fossils, Jack’s competitive spirit is positively ablaze. But Picklewitch is only interested in securing an invitation to tea and cake with Scowling Margaret, the local Sea Wizard. Infuriated by Picklewitch’s lack of scientific curiosity and willingness to help, he wishes she’d just stayed at home. But, true to herself, she lures him out of his comfort zone and leads him to the greatest treasure of all.
As Jack rather sweetly observes in the first book ‘having a friend is happiness squared’. Time and again studies reveal that friendship ranks amongst the key indicators for childhood happiness. If there is a message behind this series it’s that there is someone for everyone, even if it’s not who you might expect. Don’t be sad, don’t give up and keep your heart open. Then, as the song goes, you just might find you get what you need.