Hetty Feather is a book by best-selling author, Jacqueline Wilson. It is about a young girl who is abandoned by her mother at the Foundling Hospital as a baby and follows her story as she lives in a foster home before returning to the Foundling Hospital as a young child.
Hetty was abandoned at the Foundling Hospital as a newborn baby. Children abandoned at the Hospital are fostered until the age of five, at that exact age they need to be returned to the Hospital to start their education. Hetty spends her early years as a foster child under the care of Peg and John Cotton who she knows as her mother and father. She is largely unaware that she will one day have to leave them. There are several other foster children in her home as well as Peg and John's own children. Jem, Nat, Rosie and Eliza are the pair's own children; whereas Martha, Saul, Gideon, Hetty and Eliza are foundlings. There are also Bess and Nora, who are away in service, and Marcus, who is a soldier. Hetty especially likes Jem, who is five years older than she is, and who treats her very kindly. Hetty is a feisty, redheaded child who often gets into trouble but who is generally kind-hearted and loved by the family. Later, in the sequel Emerald Star, Hetty returns to her foster family and is upset to find out that her father is dead, her mother very ill and unable to speak or even sit up, and her older siblings having forgotten her. As well as this, Gideon returns and reveals that he tried to commit suicide, and as a result lost an eye. Throughout alk of this, Jem stayed loyal to Hetty ans repeatedly tried to kiss her; however she realised that she wouldn't make Jem happy, and left him to marry her friend Janet Maple.
Martha is the eldest of the fostered children, and is taken away back to the Foundling Hospital when she turns five. Initially, Hetty does not connect Martha's fate with her own future, until Saul is taken too; although she dislikes Saul, she cries when Peg takes the sobbing Saul away. Missing her foster siblings, she demands to hear the truth. When Peg tells the other children about the Hospital, Jem promises Hetty that he will marry her once she is released around the age of fourteen and says he will meet her at the Foundling Hospital, sadly when Hetty walks out she does not notice him and leaves him there standing all alone.
As Hetty gets older, a circus moves into town. There is a parade through the streets, and Hetty loves it; especially Madame Adeline, a redheaded lady dressed in scanty clothing who rides a horse. Hetty and Jem sneak to the circus, telling Gideon they are going into the woods to a tree Gideon fears, as he cannot be trusted with secrets. They creep in through the side of the circus tent and watch the show together. Towards the end, Madame Adeline performs and asks for a volunteer to come up and help her, and Hetty screams to be picked. She is, and performs on Madame Adeline's horse with her. The crowd cheer and clap as Hetty returns to her seat, excited that she had met Madame Adeline and that Madame Adeline had called her 'My little Star'. Upon leaving the circus, Hetty is convinced that Madame Adeline is her mother, and wants to go back and meet her again, but Jem persuades her not to. When they arrive home, they find that Gideon has gone missing; after hours of searching, Gideon is found by the tree that Hetty had claimed that they were going to, unconscious. He recovers but is greatly weakened and no longer speaks. Hetty feels horrendously guilty. Poor Gideon!
As the book goes on, Hetty is returned to the foundling hospital along with Gideon, but they are both shocked and scared when they are separated. Hetty is reunited with Nurse Winterson (Winnie) who looked after her when she was a baby, and Martha, who unfortunately barely remembers her foster family and has friends of her own. Later on that day, Hetty meets a friendly new kitchen maid, Ida, and they become friends. Hetty gets in several scraps with the other girls in her dormitory, as well as Matron 'Pigface' Peters, but after Ida lent her a book and Hetty read the story aloud to her foundling sisters, they found a new respect for her. Hetty then narrates how lonely it is at the hospital, until she finds her friend Polly Renfrew. Hetty is then relatively happy at her new home, until Polly is adopted by a wealthy couple. Hetty and Polly don't see each other again until the sequel Diamond when Polly watches Hetty at the circus.
As Hetty progresses to her senior years at the hospital, she is faced with the horrors of a new, much meaner matron, Matron 'Stinking' Bottomly. Matron Bottomly once locked Hetty in a dark cupboard for a day and a night as a punishment for standing up to a mistress. Hetty is comforted by Ida.
As well as this, Hetty is given the responsibility of looking after the newborn babies submitted to the hospital, and the new 5 year old girls who just came back from their foster families. Upon doing this duty, Hetty finds that her younger foster sister, Eliza, who had been just a baby when Hetty had left home, had returned. Hetty was delighted, and vowed to look after her younger sister, but after Eliza revealed that Hetty's beloved Jem had played all the same games with her, and even told Eliza he would be her husband, Hetty pushed Eliza away, only to occasionally talk to or interact with her.
On the dag of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, all the foundlings are taken on an outing to a fairground at Hyde Park. After finding that Tanglefield's travelling circus is there, she decides to run away in pursuit of her true mother. She tries to persuade Gideon to join her, but he refuses. After watching the circus, Hetty goes backstage to meet Madame Adeline, who is puzzled when Hetty declares that she is her daughter. Madame Adeline reveals that she can't have children. Madame Adeline tries to tell the hospital that Hetty has gone to the circus, but Hetty runs away.
During her time on the streets of London, Hetty takes a ride on an elephant in the Zoological Gardens, has her shoes sfolen, and is cornered by a suspicious man. She is saved by a flower seller, Sissy, who takes Hetty to her home and looks after her. Hetty proves to be a oersuasive seller, and sells many more flowers than Sissy. However, in the middle of their work, the two girls are invited by a kindly wealthy lady to have lunch. Whilst they are there, Miss Smith reveales that she is a governor of the Foundling Hospital, and must take Hetty back there. However, she proves to be a great friend to Hetty, and buys her a red notebook and pen. She also invents a wild story to explain why Hetty had disappeared, and warned Matron bottomly not to punish her hardly again.
Upon returning to the hospital, Hetty finds there is an uproar. Howver, the person who seemed to have taken her disappearance the worst was Ida, who fainted dead away when Hetty returned. When Hetty goes to comfort her, Ida reveals that she is Hetty's true mother.