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Saturday, March 26, 2005

The Worry Web Site by Jacqueline Wilson (Dell Yearling, 2003)
The Worry Web Site

The Worry Web Site is comprised of linked short stories about students in a British classroom and the various worries that affect them—problems with parents and step-parents, self-esteem issues, and first loves. The book is well-suited for fourth and fifth grade students who face similar worries. Its portrayal of Natasha, a student with an unidentified disability who uses a wheelchair and a “special speaking machine,” alongside the worries of all the other students nicely addresses the many similarities between Natasha’s worries and those of the others in the class.

The Worry Web Site, set up by teacher Mr. Speed, links the stories in the book, as each featured student writes about a particular worry on the Web site. At most, the technology sounds like an anonymous Web form that students can fill out. After a student posts, other students in the class can respond. The site seems to be something like an anonymous blog. Anyone can post, and anyone can reply. There are classroom netiquette rules, but we don’t really learn anything about the technology that the teacher has set up to make it all work . Technology plays the role of connecting the stories, but readers have to guess about what that technology actually is. There’s no indication, for instance, that students can access the site outside of the classroom. Readers might guess then that the Worry Web Site is a local site, available only on this one classroom computer. There is not enough detail about the technology, however, for readers to be sure.

Perhaps the undefined nature of the Worry Web Site is an attempt to keep the book, originally published in Great Britain in 2002, from appearing dated. If written today, the technology might be described as an anonymous blog, but there’s nothing else in the few details that would cause a problem.

In fact, there’s nothing really special about the Worry Web Site. The same sharing of worries and classroom feedback could easily be achieved with a shared classroom journal. The only benefit of the Worry Web Site over such a handwritten journal is the posture of anonymity—there is no handwriting on the Web site to betray the author. Of course, Mr. Speed knows who writes every message in spite of the anonymous postings. There is no way to know if Mr. Speed is simply very clever or there is a backdoor that lets him check the author’s name. It’s likely the former, however, as even the students are able to guess who posts which worries:

          One of the boys wrote that he liked one of the girls a lot. That made everyone giggle—and Greg went very pink. Hmm! I wonder who he fancies?
          Someone else went on and on. Oh boo hoo, it’s so sad, I miss my dad, etc, etc. We all know who that was. (p. 4)

Technology plays a role in the stories, then, but a subtle one. The messages that the students write are always the focus, rather than the technology that the students use to write those messages. Perhaps, then, the book shows that technology has become more of a commonplace element of students’ lives. It just is. There is a classroom computer, and students use it matter-of-factly during their school day.

Jacqueline Wilson, the book’s author, is a two-time runner-up for the Carnegie Medal, so I was expecting a bit more from the book. Terry Pratchett won the Carnegie for The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, and Wilson’s book doesn't really compare to Pratchett’s—yes, I know that Pratchett doesn't really compare to anyone :) In many ways, The Worry Web Site is predictable and the stories rather simplistic. It is a good book, but not a great one.

I would recommend it to students facing worries similar to those in the book, but those readers with more complex anxieties would certainly need more support than this book provides. There are suggestions of domestic violence and alcoholism, for instance, but the student’s worries are treated rather superficially and the bigger issues are not dealt with. It is not a book to give to readers looking for stories about technology. The computer and Web site do not play a significant role, and students looking for something akin to video game action will be disappointed.


  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Book Format: short chapter book
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • ISBN: 0440419298
  • Rating: ********** (5 of 10 stars)
  • Stores: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells
  • Technologies Included: web | discussion forum

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