The only way I can describe Take a Good Look by Jacqueline Wilson is a book designed to educate young children about visual impairment gone horribly wrong. Mary is a visually impaired child limited by her parents’ over-protectiveness. One day she decides to go to the shops on her own but gets kidnapped; the story essentially follows how she manages to escape.
The premise itself doesn’t sound bad. It’s very much targeted at younger children and so although the kidnapping and escape are somewhat unrealistic you can forgive that. The part that is difficult to reconcile is Wilson’s incredibly unrealistic portrayal of visual impairment. Jacqueline Wilson is a very respected children’s author but this time she didn’t hit the mark.
Mary herself wasn’t such a bad character. She resents the way her family treats her, never letting her walk around alone, not letting her go up the stairs or use scissors. The problem with her was the way she generally accepts her lot in life. She loses things and rather than trying to use her vision accepts that she’ll never find them again. She questions her family but never really tries to stand up for herself. She also has no intention of learning to deal with being blind; chapter one of the book is taken up with her being miserable and hoping that one day she’ll be able to see again. Although I understand those kinds of feelings—I was in that place myself and I imagine most blind children have been—I don’t think it’s done in a way that is useful to blind children. It sets a very low standard, implying that those feelings are right and that it’s OK to never want to learn to deal with your blindness.
Although Mary finally makes the decision to go outside alone, the way Wilson describes her experiences is terrible. For a start, it was initially said that Mary has some functional vision. She’s a print user and although she can’t see things clearly, that would indicate she has enough vision to be fairly mobile, or would use a cane if not. However, this apparently isn’t the case.
She blundered up and down the hall, crouched over, feeling for the bag.
I can’t help thinking that this description reinforces stereotypes about blindness, rather than educating people. Even the descriptions of her finding her way around are badly written and in all honesty completely unrealistic.
Somehow after being kidnapped Mary manages to escape and be reunited with her family, as expected. You would think that the moral of the story would be independence and achievement … but apparently not. Mary still isn’t allowed to go out alone, and more than that, she no longer wants to.
So I’m not really sure what this book is trying to teach people. Does it show that blind children can be independent, that they can lead normal lives? I don’t think it does. I hate to criticise this book so much as I have a lot of respect for Jacqueline Wilson, she’s tried to tackle issues in the past that most MG/YA authors avoid but this was so poorly executed I can’t really applaud her efforts. I don’t doubt that it was written with good intentions but I’d discourage educators and parents from using this as a tool to teach children about disability.