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A Boy Called Dickens Library Binding – January 10, 2012
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*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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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."
From the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
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.
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.
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.