A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson

Lynn: Wonderfully timed for the celebration of Charles Dickens’ birth 200 year ago, is this gorgeous new picture book, A Boy Called Dickens (Random/Schwartz & Wade 2012) by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by John Hendrix.  This is the team that created one of my favorite books, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek (Random Schwartz & Wade 2008) and this one is just as wonderful and that again takes a small but formative slice of life to reveal what lies at the heart of a famous individual.

The opening pages reveal a grey and brown city landscape with smoke pouring from chimneys and an unseen narrator speaking directly to the reader.  “Come along now.  We are here to search for a boy called Dickens.”  And we are off through the streets of London, searching for a 12-year-old boy who has been set to work in a factory after his father went to debtor’s prison.  Taken from school and his family, Dickens worked 10 hour days 6 days a week in horrible conditions but never abandoned his dream of being a writer.  Dickens kept this part of his life secret for years but his life’s work was deeply influenced by this period.

Hopkinson and Hendrix help young readers to see both the power of dreams and also the importance of using life’s experiences.  Dickens, always the storyteller, entertained his fellow workers with stories whose origins where culled from the streets of London.  Hendrix uses blue swirling images amidst the dull brown palette to create the richness of Dickens’ imagination amidst the privation of his circumstances.   Hopkinson includes many references to Dickens’ eventual books that young readers may miss but that make this a wonderful book to use with a middle school classroom and the vibrant scenes are delightful for all ages.  This is a terrific introduction to Dickens and the subject of child labor for young readers and an intriguing pairing with Andrea Warren’s terrific, Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London (Houghton 2011) for middle schoolers.

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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