My husband and I are great fans of Charles Dickens' works, especially novels like Great Expectations (which is being remade yet again and slated for release in 2012), David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities. I was hoping to pass down this love of Dickens to our own daughter who is seven. When I saw this picture book at our well-stocked local library, I knew this would be a great way to introduce Dickens to her.
A Boy Called Dickens is a fictionalized retelling of Charles Dickens' life when he was a young boy of twelve, living a destitute life in 1800s London, a city known for being unforgiving to the less fortunate. Dickens' father is in debtor's prison, serving out a sentence for being unable to pay a debt owed to the baker, and since Dickens' mother and siblings have nowhere to go, they all live at the prison as well. All except Dickens that is - he toils away at a blacking factory, earning a meager sum despite putting in long hours; and, lives in a decrepit dwelling, occupying a cold attic. His only solace is his pencil and slate - tools which help him escape into other worlds, creating stories and characters from his experiences, observations, and from his overabundant imagination.
The story is well-told, and even though little is known about this dark period in Dickens' life, it does correlate with some of what we know of his early years, and the author has evidently done some research into this. The illustrations are beautiful, and despite the dark theme of a struggling, neglected child, there is also a ray of hope threaded into the storyline. Dickens did rise above his early disadvantaged life, and became a renowned author whose works continue to be loved two centuries later. This picture book is a great way for children and adults to celebrate Dickens' 200th birthday, and will hopefully encourage young readers to pick up one of his classics.