A Boy Called Dickens Hardcover – Jan 10 2012
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Booklist Best Children's Book of 2012
Starred Review, School Library Journal, January 1, 2012:
“Hopkinson’s engaging text invites readers to experience the story with her…. full of well-crafted description and detail.”
Starred Review, Booklist, December 15, 2011:
“A fine introduction to the writer, and a terrific, completely un-preachy departure point for discussions of child labor and social reform.”
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2011:
"Both accessible and rich in simile and metaphor, this fictionalized biography concerns the budding novelist’s coming of age, as he ekes out a living (during his family’s stint in debtors’ prison) and pursues his dream."
About the Author
DEBORAH HOPKINSON is the author of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, an ALA Notable Book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book. Her Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, illustrated by John Hendrix, was an ALA Notable Book and a Junior Library Guild Selection. She is also the author of the ALA Notable Apples to Oregon. Her many other acclaimed titles include Under the Quilt of Night and Fannie in the Kitchen, recipient of four starred reviews.
JOHN HENDRIX's illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone among other publications. He illustrated the chapter book How to Save Your Tail, by Mary Hanson, and the ALA Notable picture book Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, among others. His work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, and Communication Arts. He currently teaches illustration at Washington University in St. Louis. Learn more at JohnHendrix.com
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
My boys loved A Boy Called Dickens. In fact NPR mentioned Dickens on the radio Wednesday and Kile (just turned six) piped up and said, "Dickens' family was in jail and he worked in a factory. He grew up and wrote lots of books." I was amazed and glad that he was retaining what we had read. He did pick the book to read each night last week so it must have intrigued him.
The boys really loved the artwork by John Hendrix, which goes perfectly with the story. Daniel is sure that one of the story creations of Dickens is a pirate from his hat and I went with it. They really like the beginning where the story asks where young Dickens is. They like to look at the picture and find him. They feel sad for him that he can't go to school, but also think it is very cool that he is able to write his own stories and grows up to become a famous author. In other words, the boys found the story interesting, relatable, and educational. Or maybe I found it educational, and they just happened to learn from it! I liked how the tale ends happily and the note about Dickens' life at the end.
Overall, A Boy Called Dickens is a children's historical fiction picture book that is sure to delight both children and adults.
This review was first published on my blog, Laura's Reviews.
The boy returns home alone to a tiny room, with a cot and shelf and loaf of bread, leaving the reader wondering where his family may be. His entire family is in the debtors prison, including his mother and young siblings who have nowhere else to live. The young Dickens longs to return to school, but there will be more obstacles to overcome before this happens.
The illustrations are done in shades of beige, gray and brown to convey how poverty severely limits one's options, while Dickens is painted with an inner light that animates this boy whose aspirations seem near impossible. His future characters are done in ghostly blues, as we discover the people and places that he will later reinvent through his stories such as, "a young gentleman with great expectations...lawyers, clerks, convicts and keepers of old curiosity shops."
This story is a nice way of introducing children to this literary genius, and the story will give children a renewed appreciation for school, as the young Dickens's one driving ambition is to return to school! Anyone with a dream that seems out of reach, will be inspired by this tale.
The last line will stay with the reader long afterward:
"...remember how much we all might lose when a child's dreams don't come true."
Thus I will try again. Having taught Dickens at the college level for a couple of dozen years, I am enthusiastic about efforts to interest young readers in his own young life--which might later lead to an interest in his extraordinary, and very adult, novels. The text and illustrations are clever and captivating--although the Dickens boy does look a little goofy--and should transport the reader to another time and place, a valiant and valuable thing in this world of short views and unlasting moments. My overall inpression is favorable, and I hope the child to whom I gave the book agrees and might eventually read one of Dickens's masterpieces.