A Boy Called Dickens

Boy Called Dickens113794559A Boy Called Dickens

Deborah Hopkinson, author

John Hendrix, illustrator

Schwartz & Wade Books, Historical Fiction, 2012

Suitable for:  Ages 5 and up

Themes:  Young life of Charles Dickens,  Child Labor, History, Imagination

Opening/Synopsis“This is old London, on a winter morning long ago.  Come along, now.  We are here to search for a boy called Dickens.  He won’t be easy to find.”  Standing in a doorway is a 12-year-old Dickens, dressed in a worn jacket.  He’s skinny and cold and watching schoolboys carrying their books to class.  Instead  of joining the boys, Dickens heads to a blacking factory, where he packages polish for gentlemen’s boots 10 hours a day.  To deal with the bitter cold and boredom a friend asks Dickens to tell a story.  Dickens is an imaginative boy who loves to spin a story and misses his books that were sold to pay a family debt.  His most prized possessions are a pencil and slate.  He begins to sketch out the story of an orphan boy named David.  eventually his father is able to send Dickens back to school and Dickens becomes a writer.  His dream did come true.

Why I like this book:  Little was known about novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) as a child.  Deborah Hopkinson sheds light on his boyhood and his struggles and dreams as it is easy to see that his books are a window on his own life.  His youth left him with an ambitious drive to pursue those dreams at all cost.  That’s why this is such an important story for young people — to never let go of their dreams.  John Hendrix’s illustrations are rich in detail, expressive and beautifully capture the time period.  You can see glimpses of Dickens in some of his characters.

Resources:  What better way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth than to introduce this famous author.  It is the holiday season and a perfect time to read A Christmas Carol  or Oliver Twist at home or in the classroom.  Talk about London in around 1825 and child labor.   Talk about the child labor that still exists in the world.  There is a Note about the book at the end which has information.  Check out Deborah Hopkinson’s website for more information.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book.  To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

29 thoughts on “A Boy Called Dickens

    • I’m so glad you liked my selection. With Christmas coming, I thought it a good time to share this new release. You might want to read Craig’s comments above about child labor. Thank you for mentioning on twitter.


  1. Yes, an unsusual topic for a picture book, as Genevieve says! But as you pointed out, Patricia, child labour is a reality of the times we are living in (I’m from India, and I see it all around me), so talking about such issues with little children is important for them to be aware of all that goes on in this world they live in. A great pick, indeed, thanks!


    • Richa, thank you for stopping by. I adopted a son from India and am very aware of the child labor problem. You might want to check out a YA novel I reviewed called “Saraswati’s Way” about a very smart boy in India sold to labor, his escape and his the choices he makes to stay away from trouble and follow his dreams.


  2. I’m really glad to see this review! Thanks Pat!! We love discovering unusual but wonderful books like these.

    On the subject of child labor, this Sunday evening on 60 Minutes they’re going to interview Craig Kielburger, the founder of Free the Children. You’ve reviewed the Carpet Boy’s Gift here and it was Iqbal Masih who inspired that book and it was Iqbal’s story that inspired Craig Kielburger, at the age of 12 (Iqbal’s age when he was killed), to go to East Asia to learn first-hand about child labor. Craig and three friends then started Free the Children. 60 Minutes interviewed him way back then and is doing a new interview to look at how his organization has grown. There are hundreds of thousands of young people in Canada and the US who work to alleviate poverty, hunger, child labor, illiteracy….. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how Dickens would write about these children in the 21st Century, working to alleviate the same social ills that he wrote about so long ago!

    If you need a boost of hope in the future of our world, I’m betting the 60 Minutes story on Free the Children will give you that boost. Sunday at 7pm on CBS.


    • Craig,
      Thank you for sharing the information with my readers. I am very familiar with Criag Kielburger, so will plan on watching “60 Minutes” Sunday night. It’s disheartening to me that child labor is still such a big problem in the world. I watched a program Lisa Ling did on the subject in India, and it broke my heart. I do find it heartening to know what young people like Craig are doing to make a difference in the world. And, I know his work is important.


  3. Reading Copperfield with a professor at hand to riddle with questions, I’ve learned that the reason we know so little about his childhood, is because he never told anyone about it, so great was his embarrassment. So great was his ambition to never be there again that he was a prolific writer – working on numerous books at a time, while editing two magazines/periodicals – and other author’s manuscripts! Not to mention walking up to 15 miles through the streets of London – daily!


  4. Does the book give a bibliography at the back, Pat? This is a super choice as you say to celebrate his bicentenary! Maybe reading this as a young child might inspire children to attempt his great masterpieces when older!


    • Erik, Dickens was a victim of child labor, which he kept private. Last night there was a remarkable interview on CBS 60 minutes last night with Craig Kielburger, who at age 12, started “Free the Children,” after the death of a boy who was freeing kids from child labor in Pakistan. The story is about Kids helping kids and making a BIG difference. Thought you might want to check it out because Craig hold 9 big rallies a year that draw 20,000 kids to each rally wanting to help kids. Craig works with the schools. It’s an amazing interview.


  5. What a great choice Patricia. A book like this will intice young people to read Mr. Dickens’ novels when they get older. I love reading about writers of the classics so I am sure I would enjoy the book myself!


  6. Pat…this is wonderful! I love to read about ‘famous’ people as children…and kids would love this..and it would encourage them to follow up with reading the classics that Dickens wrote. 🙂


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