1,473 Pages

"Covered from head to foot with glorious tattoos, Marigold is the brightest, most beautiful Mother in the world. That's what Dolphin thinks...Her older sister, Star, isn't so sure any more. She loves Marigold too, but sometimes she just can't help wishing she were more normal."

"Powerful and memorable tale for older readers."

Reader's Reviews

‘The Illustrated Mum’ by Jacqueline Wilson is a gripping read for children in the later stages of Key Stage 2 and those in Key Stage 3. The book focuses on a number of tragic and difficult issues from a child’s perspective to help the reader engage in the story. The book has a focus of talking to the child and being written for the child rather than an adult writing what they think a child would be able to ‘handle’ with these difficult issues. <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; text-indent: 36pt;">Some of the issues that are covered in the story are; alcoholism, adult relationships, sex, adolescent anxiety towards their looks, separation from family, bullying, mental health issues and many others. When asked in an interview why she had chosen so many difficult topics to read, Jacqueline Wilson stated that she understood that the story covered a lot of emotional and difficult topics but that her feedback from her other books had been that children had enjoyed crying and being upset for the characters. She felt this feedback was important to listen to as it was the readers she was writing for and felt that it was important that children felt such a connection with characters to encourage them to read more.[1]

This book is one that covers many potentially upsetting topics for children and so I feel it should be read on an individual basis. I could understand if a parent or guardian may feel that this book would not be appropriate for their child if they feel they are not emotionally ready for it. I think this book is fantastic for those children who are able to handle its contents and is a fantastically gripping and inspiring read to help children want to explore literature more. However, I feel it is a book that should be in ever school’s library but should be one that is read with caution if the teacher, guardian or parent feels the class/children are of an emotional level to not be upset by its subject matter.



This book is very good. It's in first person. Some parts are quite emotional and some are comical. It's quite a girly book but if your a boy and you don't mind girly things this is an OK book for you. It's got a kind of a weird theme as the mum (Marigold) is full of tattoos and one of her daughters (Star, the older sister) thinks she's mad, while the other (Dolphin, the younger sister) thinks she is lovely. When Star meets her long lost Dad (Micky) that finally after years of Marigold talking about him she finds him at a concert, she takes him back to her house to meet the girls, Star loves him but Dolphin is jealous. But at school Dolphin has found a new loyal friend, Oliver and so when he finds out that she has no dad and Star does, they both go on a quest to find Dolphin's Dad who has the same name, Micky! I wont spoil any more - haha - This book is very good and I loved it so I hope you will. Thank you.

Jake - age 12 1/2


I read The Illustrated Mum again today and it always feels like your there in the story.

I feel sorry for dolphin and Star annoys me for being so snooty!

I like the chapter named daisy chain because marigold makes a cake house for some pretend mice!


<p style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt">The Illustrated Mum takes us on a strange journey through the lives of a family of three. The story is told through the eyes of the youngest family member, Dolphin, aged 10. She and her older sister Star suffer from the crazy lifestyle of tattooed Mum Marigold. The story follows the family through both good and bad times. Marigold is creative and outgoing single parent, covered from head to toe with wonderful tattoos. The 30-year-old Mum of two struggles to take care of her two children. While dealing with own teenage problems, Star is has taken on the role of replacement Mum to Dolphin. It’s Star who is responsible for shopping and cooking, caring for her sister and helping her Mother after nights out. She loves Marigold, but can’t help wishing her family was normal. Dolphin struggles to see her Mum for anything but good. Through her eyes she is the best mother in the world. Dolphin faces issues at school. She struggles coping with dyslexia and finds it hard to make friends being branded as ‘different’. This book has a lot of ups and downs, mirroring real life with an unexpected ending.



Dolphin is a girl with an unusual name and an even more unusual mother. Her mum, Marigold, has a unique appearance and sometimes behaves strangely, but that doesn’t diminish the love Dolphin feels for her. Her elder sister, Star is far from satisfied with their home life, and when their mother’s behaviour become unmanageable, Star decides that she has had enough. Dolphin soon comes to realise that her mum needs more help than she can give. She finds some solace in a new-found friend, Oliver, but she knows that ultimately something must be done.

This story tackles some challenging issues such as mental health, neglect, child carers, and bullying, which would make this a book more suitable for children aged 10 and up. However, there are also many humorous and heart-warming moments in the story to keep the reader feeling optimistic, as well as themes of friendship, family and unconditional love. The eventual resolution leaves the reader feeling uplifted.

The chapters are short enough to make it a good book for reading in the classroom or at bedtime.

The language is accessible for a range of abilities and the dialogue between the characters is believable and lively. The story is told from the perspective of the youngest daughter, Dolphin, and her thoughts and interactions with the other characters are insightful and compelling. Wilson has skilfully managed to “get inside the head” of a ten year old who is going through an extremely difficult time in her life. She fully describes the emotional roller-coaster of a young person who is seeing their mum struggle with her mental health.

The way Wilson tackles the issues in this story creates a message that difficult situations can be overcome through bravery and support.

R Lawrence


‘The Illustrated Mum’ is a fictional story told in first-person through the eyes of the lovely main character, a ten year old girl called Dolphin (Dol for short), who lives at home with her mother Marigold and big sister Star (though there are more characters mentioned!). It is a brilliant read, taking you on an emotional rollercoaster ride throughout, and is very hard to put down. All of the characters in the book are described in such clear detail by Jacqueline Wilson that you find it very easy to imagine what they look like, and their personalities really bring them to life and make you believe that they are real. This really helps the transform the story from a fictional book to one which you truly think could be real.

The author (Jacqueline Wilson) deserves a lot of credit for the way she discusses and handles some of the wide-ranging and serious issues contained in the story, including mental health issues, alcoholism and bullying. For every heart-wrenching moment, there is one equally beautiful and uplifting, be it blossoming friendship, the unconditional love of family or youthful enthusiasm. The sensitive way in which she describes each chapter really does take you on an emotional rollercoaster, causing you to feel sadness and sorrow for them, as well as making you smile and feel happiness for them during the good times.

One thing I will say about this book is that sometimes the language can be a little inappropriate than the suggested 11+ age-range would have you believe, so caution should perhaps be exercised in giving it to younger primary-aged children. However, in the main, this book is full of beautiful description and conversation, and one I would thoroughly recommend to anybody who enjoys reading.=====

J Treadwell.

Book review of the Illustrated mum


The Illustrated Mum, is a touching tale following two young girls as they try to cope with their mother’s manic depression. Dolphin, adores her intricately tattooed mother, Marigold. However, her older sister, Star, who is going through the difficult stages of adolescence, finds her mum deeply embarrassing. As Star struggles to cope looking after her family, especially as Marigold’s illness becomes more prominent, Dolphin begins to feel quite alone.

This thought-provoking book, which has won several awards including The Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, sensitively deals with the themes of mental illness, alcohol abuse, bullying and family separation, making it a powerful read for children and adults alike.

This tale would appeal to 10-11 year olds, engaging them from beginning to end. I would recommend parental guidance for children wishing to read this book independently, as there are parts which include strong language.


The illustrated mum is a book about two girls called Dolphin, Star, their mum Marigold and their rather turbulent life together. The book is written from Dolphin's point of view who is still at primary school. The main twist within the book is when Micky Star's dad comes back into their lives and the effect that this has on the main characters. The book is filled with cliff hangers largely due to Marigold having depression and also a drinking problem. Additional themes within the book are Dolphin having dyslexia and also being bullied, foster care also features in the story. Overall the book is largely based on real life situations which could occur and provides an insight into the lives of people who are likely to be less fortunate than ourselves.

The Illustrated Mum is a story that highlights the difficulties and struggles children may face when living with a parent who suffers from a mental illness such a depression or bipolar disorder, representing real life problems that children could face. The lack of care the two girls faced in the book, shows how this can have a detrimental effect on their school life and personal life. The book shows how children can come from a range of backgrounds and non-conventional families. The mothers (Marigold) irresponsible attitude places both children in compromising and dangerous positions throughout the book, such as when she becomes mentally ill and covers herself in paint, trying to cover the many tattoo’s she has all over her body. However, it is evident that the children continued to be in love with and in awe of their parents. Jacqueline Wilson does a brilliant job in making the book light hearted even when dealing with difficult issues. The book touches on many difficult issues and as a result is quite controversial. The references towards alcohol abuse, can appear somewhat unsuitable for younger children. Therefore, I would suggest that this book would be more appropriate for children in year 5 and 6


Jacqueline Wilson’s book ‘Illustrated Mum’ is quirky, unsettling world of the two daughters: Star and Dolphin. Throughout the book, each chapter has an illustration of Marigold, the mother’s tattoo and the story behind her and why her mother is not the traditional type of mother we may see. The story keeps you gripped on each chapter in order to see how the daughters are struggling to look after themselves,  while their mother is busy worrying about the next tattoo. Throughout the story, Star is managing her younger sister by ensuring she has suitable clothing for school, food to eat, and also caring for Marigold. Taking into account the difficult situations the daughters are dealing with at home, the youngest daughter, Dolphin is also being bullied by children at school; this is because of the second hand clothes she wears that are never clean. Jacqueline Wilson discusses these sensitive issues but possesses a rare gift for writing lightly and humorously.

  <p style="margin: 0cm 0cm 0pt">Suitability for Adults

The Illustrated mum is suitable for adults to read as it focuses on numerous serious issues such as alcoholism, depression, learning difficulties and also 'bad' parenting.Thus it is an extremely deep book. Due to these adult issues which run throughout the book it may be that only when you are slightly older you can understand and grasp the book fully and additionally appreciate the seriousness of the situations which the girls are faced with.

Suitability for children

The illustrated mum is suitable for children to read for multiple reasons. Firstly it deals with issues that girls in particular may be interested in, such as Star getting her first boyfriend and also friendships which run throughout the book. Additionally it comes in an audio version which means that even if children aren't proficient readers they can still listen and therefore access the story. Finally the characters may be relatable to some children's lives, meaning those who come from a broken home, those who are being bullied or if they have dyslexia may relate to Dolphin and Star and can seek comfort from the story that they are not alone.

Ways to use the Illustrated mum in the classroom

-The pupils could draw what they think Marigold looks like and label with description words and after compare with the illustration of Marigold used within the book.

-Whilst reading the book to the class due to the range of emotions covered you could discuss with the class how the characters feel and why

-As Dolphin and Star have a fun day out with Micky Star's dad in which they go shopping and for lunch you could ask the pupils to write about a fun/special day which they have had themselves. They could write different activities on a time line on white boards before writing up in neat

-Due to the adult themes covered I would consider it to be more suitable for older KS2


Marigold is the brightest, most beautiful mum in the world. That’s what Dolphin thinks. Star, her older sister, wishes Marigold would act like a normal mum. The Illustrated Mum is a thought provoking story told through the voice of Marigold’s youngest daughter, Dolphin. Marigold is a manic depressive who enjoys partying, drinking and tattoos which often involves leaving Dolphin and Star on their own to take care of themselves. The roles are reversed with Marigold adopting a ‘child like’ character and her daughters the role of ‘carer’. The story deals with many intense moments that can occur in a child’s life such as poverty, bullying, violence, madness and dyslexia. Instead of protecting them, Marigold exposes her daughters to a darker world of alcoholism and depression and explores the bond between mother and daughter, father and daughter and the importance of friendship.




The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson follows the story of a young girl called Dolphin and her sister (Star) who look after their Mum (Marigold) and cope with the difficulties of life. It is quite a sad story at times, because the Mum (Marigold) isn’t very well and the 2 daughters have to look after her through some hard times. It is difficult because the older sister Star thinks she is just a mad woman who can’t cope but Dolphin thinks that her mum is amazing and really special. She likes that her mum is different to everybody else’s mum.

The mum character, who they always call Marigold, is special because she is covered head to toe in tattoos all of which have a special meaning to her daughter, Dolphin. Dolphin thinks that her mum is really amazing and special, but everybody else at school thinks she’s a bit weird and Dolphin gets bullied because of it. Marigold’s tattoos are discussed in each chapter of the book with the chapters being named after one of the tattoos e.g. Marigold, Star, Eye, and Snake. I found this really interesting as it allows us to understand the meaning behind the tattoos and helps to move the story along.

The book uses quite descriptive language and is written in the 1st person and from only the one perspective. This allows the reader to not only follow the story, but feel like they are part of Dolphins life at that time. I really enjoyed this book and think it is one of the best books of Jacqueline Wilson’s styles of fiction. I would recommend it to any reader over the age of 10+.



'The Illustrated Mum' by Jacqueline Wilson is the story of a girl named Dolphin, her sister Star, and their Mother Marigold, who is covered in tattoos. Dolphin loves her mother and thinks that her tattoos are beautiful.'

The story, written from the point of view of Dolphin, follows the girls dealing with living with a mother suffering from mental health problems, as well as school and Star becoming a teenager and drifting away from her sister.

 As it is written from the point of view of a child, children will be able to identify with the main character.  This book is ideal for confident year 5 or 6 readers. However it does deal with difficult issues such as mental illness, child neglect and children being taken into care. 

The Illustrated Mum - Review for parents and teachers.

Dolphin is a young girl who is very aware that her mother, Marigold, is different from all the other mums at the school gate. Marigold is covered in bright, colourful tattoos and is subject to sudden mood swings which can leave her unable to take care of her daughters. Throughout the book, her condition and stability deteriorate, leaving her two daughters with some very difficult decisions to make.

This is a deep and challenging but very well-written and engaging book. Wilson creates complex and real characters and an identifiable setting. Although the book is very dark at times, what comes through above all else is the resilience of the story’s child narrator.

The Illustrated Mum might be a very good choice for children and young people struggling with difficult home lives or who are struggling to fit in at school. The book contextualises difficult subjects such as depression and alcoholism using relatable and likeable characters. This could be an interesting book to read with a child and would lead to interesting discussion, adults would obviously need to be aware of any potential issues the reader might have.


‘The Illustrated Mum’ <p align="center" class="MsoNormal" style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt; text-align: center;">Jacqueline Wilson.

Jacqueline Wilson is a well-established British Children’s author and has written many books for various age ranges.

This particular book is better suited to older children 10 years + due to some of more complex issues: mental health, dyslexia, bullying and social services.

The book is written from the viewpoint of a 10 year old child, Dolphin, she lives with her older sister, Skye, and their mother Marigold. As with many of Jacqueline Wilson’s books they are a slightly dysfunctional family although their bond and love for one another is strong.

We see Marigold’s mental health deteriorate as her elder daughter contacts and goes to live with her biological father; leaving Dolphin to deal with their mothers erratic behaviour. Dolphin is spurred on to find her own biological father by her best friend at school, Oliver Morris; their unlikely friendship is cemented by their unpleasant experience of the school bullies. As Marigold suffers a break down, Dolphin has to live in a foster home where she is reunited with her sister and eventually her mother.

An emotional story of love, anger and the overwhelming strong spirit of the three main female characters.

6. The Illustrated Mum is full of social realism; it explores the difficulties that a family are dealing with in regards to their mother suffering from depression. It is told through the eyes of the main character Dolphin, who is too young to understand the situation and instead is constantly trying to please her mother and keep the family together. The book also shows her older sisters contrasting opinions; she is fed up of looking after her mother, resentful and craves conformity and normality that she perceives to see around her. Interestingly Jacqueline Wilson doesn’t make reference to the mother suffering from mental illness until the final chapters; this allows the reader to develop a relationship with the mother character, perhaps questioning her actions and her decisions. This helps to provide a very real aspect to the book making children realise and perhaps better understand real life issues that they may see around them.  

Jacqueline Wilson cleverly uses first person to allow children of a similar age to feel encapsulated and part of the book. Through using first person the characters are brought to life in an imaginative fun way, that second person wouldn't quite capture as a lot of dialogue and description are used. Children may be able to relate to issues found within this book such as mental illness, parental separation and bullying at school and for those that haven’t experienced this it opens their eyes to what their classmates around them could be experiencing.

I would suggest that this book is suitable for children aged ten and above because of the complex issues it explores and some of the language used. This book has a predominate focus upon female characters which may limit its audience of interest. This book could bring up some sensitive issues that children may want to discuss with parents/guardians.

Parental Guidance

  • Reading Age: 11+ (due to lifestyle context)
  • Reading Aloud Age: 11+

Clean, although the social context of a single mother with children from different fathers, and 'alternative' living, needs to be considered when deciding suitability. I would say for an older child who is already a little 'streetwise' this is probably fine, but otherwise it might be an eye-opener! In which case I would recommend discussing the issues that arise as you go along :D

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<p style="margin: 0cm 0cm 10pt">The Illustrated Mum book review by Huw Price

This first person narrative deals with issues of manic depression and alcohol dependency within the family unit. The family unit in this case consists of a single mother with two young daughters with different and absent fathers. The story ends with the daughters in foster care and the mother in hospital yet with the trio deciding that they are a close and strong family, regardless of the

unconventional and troubled relationships they have. I thought the book dealt with largely adult themes in a positive and responsible ways. For the older primary school child, it displays positive suggestions for dealing with issues of negative stereotyping. For the child who is part of a non traditional family set up it offers understanding in its communication and tackles possible feelings that a child may otherwise find hard to express. It also offers the reader an introduction to wider medical and mental health problems alongside recognition of the way in which family members with these problems may be feeling. Further to this the main characters experience are connection with their fathers and the whole tone is that of forgiveness and positivity. The story itself is exciting and well written and compels the reader to keep reading.

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