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The Illustrated Mum
The illustrated mum.jpeg
Author Jacqueline Wilson
Illustrator Nick Sharratt
Cover artist Nick Sharratt
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 222 pp (first edition)
ISBN 0385408889
OCLC 59399913
LC Class PZ7.W6957 Il 2005

The Illustrated Mum is a children's novel by English author Jacqueline Wilson, first published by Transworld in 1999 with drawings by Nick Sharratt. Set in London, the first person narrative by a young girl, Dolphin, features her manic depressive mother Marigold, nicknamed "the illustrated mum" because of her many tattoos. The title is a reference to The Illustrated Man, a 1951 book of short stories by Ray Bradbury, also named for tattoos.

Wilson and The Illustrated Mum won the annual Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, judged by a panel of British children's writers.

By 2001 translations had been published in Finnish, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, and Catalan. Delacorte Press published the first American edition only in 2005.


Dolphin and her older sister, Star, live with their mother, Marigold, in a small London flat. Marigold, an avid lover of tattoos, suffers from bipolar disorder and also has a drinking problem. Dolphin loves Marigold and thinks she is wonderful and unique, while Star is embarrassed by Marigold's tattoos and erratic behavior. Dolphin feels like an outsider at school; she is bullied by some classmates and feels her teacher is unkind to her. She also struggles with her dyslexia. Star appears to be more popular, and Dolphin dislikes the fact that Star has an older boyfriend. Dolphin later befriends Oliver, a shy and studious boy who spends the lunch period in the library to avoid being teased.

Marigold buys tickets to see her favorite band Emerald City, with the intention of finding Micky, Star's father, who Marigold is still in love with. Both girls are surprised when she returns that night with Micky. He was unaware he had a daughter and is thrilled to meet Star, and she adores him in turn. Dolphin however dislikes him because she feels that he abandoned Marigold and neglected Star. Micky takes them all to London for the day and they do number of fun activities and shopping. Despite it all, Dolphin feels ignored the entire day by all of them. Marigold is completely convinced they will all live together now as a family, but Micky drops them all home and returns to his place in Brighton.

In the days which follow Micky sends them presents, and Star goes to spend a weekend with him. Marigold who had hoped to reconcile romantically with Micky and is upset to hear that he has a girlfriend living with him. Micky who has no feelings for Marigold due to her mental behavior invites both Star and Dolphin to come live with him. Dolphin who still hates Micky stays loyal to Marigold and refuses to abandom her but Star leaves to be with Micky. After Star leaves, Marigold has a mental breakdown and paints herself white all over using toxic paint to hide her tattoos. Dolphin phones for an ambulance despite knowing Marigold's fear of hospitals. Later Dolphin finds out that due to her mental illness Marigold may be in hospital for some time.

With her mum in hospital ill and with nowhere else to go, Oliver encourages Dolphin to contact her real father, who she knows nothing about, except that his name is also Micky and he works as a swimming instructor. Together they manage to track him down and he's pleased to meet her. Dolphin hopes he will look after her, but learns he has a wife and daughters already and decides to do things properly, getting in touch with child services so Dolphin can be in foster care for a while. Dolphin is initially terrified of going into a foster home having heard Marigold's horror stories from her own childhood in foster homes, but she stays with a kind older woman and three babies and her father takes her to visit Marigold, who is on medication for bipolar disorder. And the two slowly begin to develop a father-daughter relationship.

Star appears at the foster home after returning to the flat to find both Marigold and Dolphin gone. Star stays in foster care with Dolphin and they argue at first, Star blaming everything on Dolphin for ruining her time with Micky and refuses to believe what Dolphin tells her. But then they reconcile and go to visit Marigold together. The story ends with Dolphin deciding that even though Marigold is in hospital and she and Star in foster care, they are still a family.


The television drama stars Michelle Collins as Marigold Westward, and Alice Connor and Holly Grainger as her daughters Dolphin and Star. The script was by Debbie Isitt, and it was directed by Cilla Ware. Ware had previously directed the television adaptation of another of Wilson's books, Double Act, and went on to adapt a third, Best Friends.


  • Dolphin Westward – Dolphin Westward is the daughter of Michael and Marigold Westward, and is the opposite of her elder sister Star, or so she believes. Star is beautiful and confident, whereas Dolphin, with her mousy hair and her greyish-green eyes, is shy yet fiery, has no friends at school and worries about things, including her mother Marigold's erratic, somewhat mad behaviour.
  • Star Westward – Star is the daughter of Micky and Marigold Westward and the elder sister of Dolphin, and she is very beautiful, with long blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Although she loves Dolphin very much, as she got older, she has put her outside life above Dolphin and Marigold, preferring to go out without Dolphin, initially with her former boyfriend, Mark.
  • Marigold Westward – Marigold Westward is the mother of Star and Dolphin. After she had Star and left Micky, she became the girlfriend of Michael (whom she met at the swimming-pool) for a short time, also calling him Micky, but she was never as keen on him, and got bored of him. She had Dolphin, and left him. Her erratic behaviour makes Star infuriated, while Dolphin is loving towards her mum, while being sometimes frightened.
  • Micky – Micky is the father of Star and was Marigold's first boyfriend. Despite Marigold's undying love for him, Micky is uninterested in her due to her mental state and avoids her completely while adoring Star as his daughter.
  • Oliver Morris – Oliver Morris is Dolphin's best friend, and wears glasses. He kindly helps Dolphin find her father and is very supportive of her.
  • Miss Hill – Dolphin's mean (but not completely heartless) teacher.
  • Michael – Michael is the father of Dolphin and was Marigold's second boyfriend, whom she met at the swimming pool. He has a wife and two daughters. He later meets Dolphin when she comes to find him. More sensible and understanding than Micky.
  • Mr Harrison – Mr Harrison is Dolphin's school librarian. He is the kindest school teacher.
  • Aunty Jane – Aunty Jane is Dolphin's foster mother, and the wife of Uncle Eddie. Although ugly with a red face and short grey hair, she is very sympathetic and kind. She has one son, who is at university, and several younger foster children, who are babies.
  • Ronnie Churley – Ronnie is the school bully, and picks on Dolphin and Oliver.
  • Kayleigh and Yvonne – The mean girls at school. They call Dolphin names such as "Bottle Nose".
  • Natasha (Tasha) – Tasha is the most beautiful girl at Dolphin's school, and she is in her class with Miss Hill (although not as pretty as Star) with long blonde hair down to her waist. Dolphin longs to be her friend, but she is not interested.
  • Mrs Luft – Dolphin, Star and Marigold's grumpy, supercilious neighbour. Mean and disapproving of Dolphin and her family, she does her best to keep out of their way, but she picks on them and makes sneering comments.

The drama won the Children's BAFTA award in 2005 for best schools drama, and Debbie Isitt won the award for best adapted writer.


  • Dolphin Westward - Alice Connor
  • Marigold Westward - Michelle Collins
  • Star Westward - Holly Grainger
  • Micky - Con O'Neill
  • Oliver Morris - Henry Cox
  • Miss Hill - Lisa George
  • Mr Harrison - John Elkington
  • Tasha - Sacha Parkinson
  • Mark - Luke Bailey


Won the 2004 BAFTA award for best schools drama. In Channel 4's Films4Schools adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson's The Illustrated Mum, produced in 2003. The cast members included Sacha Parkinson, Michelle Collins and Holly Grainger. Also Debbie Isitt won the 2004 BAFTA award for best adapted writer for her work on this production.

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