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A Boy Called Dickens Hardcover – January 10, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Looking for a picture-book biography of Dickens to celebrate his 200th birthday in 2012? Look elsewhere, as this isn’t so much a biography as it is a slice of life, and a revealing one at that. This fictionalized account is set during the time 12-year-old Dickens toiled away in a blacking factory while the rest of his family lived in debtors’ prison. To help ease the boredom and stave off hunger, the boy dreams up stories, including a rudimentary seedling of a tale that would become David Copperfield. Even when his family pays off its debt and returns home, the boy who loves books and reading toils away for six shillings a day until shame prompts his father to finally send the boy back to school. Any story of Charles Dickens is also the story of one of the great atmospheres in literary history, and a central spread of the boy walking home after a grueling work day could well serve as a visual definition of the word Dickensian. In this bustling, grimy scene, Dickens threads his way through “pickpockets; ladies with shattered hopes; a miserly old man; a young gentleman with great expectations; a proud, heartless girl; and keepers of old curiosity shops.” Dancing through wide-angled perspectives and tight close-ups, Hendrix’s cleanly inked figures are aptly set against cityscapes covered in sooty charcoals. A fine introduction to the writer, and a terrific, completely unpreachy departure point for discussions of child labor and social reform. Grades 3-5. --Ian Chipman


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."


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Lexile Measure: 750L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (January 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375867325
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375867323
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 0.4 x 11.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #694,208 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Deborah Hopkinson is as award-winning of picture books, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers. In 2013 she received a Robert F. Sibert Honor and YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Award honor for Titanic: Voices from the Disaster.

She has won the SCBWI Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Text twice, for A Band of Angels and Apples to Oregon. Sky Boys, How They Built the Empire State Building, was a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor awardee. She lives near Portland, Oregon.

Deborah's most recent book, The Great Trouble, A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel was named a Best Book of 2013 by School Library Journal.

Visit her on the web at www.deborahhopkinson.com

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laura's Reviews on February 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
A Boy Called Dickens is a children's picture book detailing the life of young Charles Dickens. Dickens has a hard life with his father going to Debtor's prison while he was a boy. He was then forced to work in a shoe blacking factory in order to make money to support his family, who were also living in jail with his father. The worst thing to Dickens is the fact that he is unable to read his beloved books and attend school. He makes the most of his adversity and uses his imagination to create wonderful stories.

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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Faith on January 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
We meet the 12 year old Dickens on a cold, gray winter day in London. He is hungry and his school books are pawned. Instead of school, he must work long hours at a blacking factory. His friend, Fagin, begs the young boy to entertain him with stories to pass the long work hours. Later, Dickens makes his way home through the dreary London streets where vendors sell potatoes and chestnuts to the poor.

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."
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