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.

The Carpet Boy’s Gift

The Carpet Boy’s Gift

Pegi Deitz Shea, author

Leane Morin, illustrator

Tilbury House Publishers, Fiction, 2006

Suitable for:  Ages 7 -12

Themes:  Pakistan, Child Labor, Child Abuse, Carpet Factories

Opening/Synopsis: “Master says I have only two more months until my peshgi   (family debt) is paid back.  With that thought, Nadeem quickened his knotting of the scarlet weft threads on the loom and then beat them tightly into place with his panja.  I’m sure Master means it this time, Nadeem hoped.”  Nadeem dreams of being free, playing soccer with his little brother and going to school.  He works in a dimly lit carpet factory from “dawn to dusk” breathing the dust of the wool that makes many kids sick.  One day Nadeem meets Iqbal Masih, a boy who marches past the rug factories shouting “We are free.” Iqbal hands Nadeem some Freedom Letters abolishing child labor and urges Nadeem to pass them to the other children.  Before the master intervenes, Iqbal hands Nadeem a pen and tells him he can go to school now.  The next day Nadeem hands the Freedom Letters to all the children at the factory and bravely confronts the master.  He makes a very risky and courageous decision that changes his life forever.

Why I like this book:  Pegi Deitz Shea writes a very important story about the power of children working together to end child labor in Pakistan.   Her fictional story honors the legacy of a boy, Iqbal Masih, who risked his own life to free children from slavery so that they could attend school.  Iqbal escaped from a factory and attended a rally held by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front (BLLF), an organization working to help bonded children.  He began to sneak into hundreds of rug factories so he could educate the other kids about their rights.   He became famous worldwide.  Leane Morin’s illustrations are beautiful watercolors that show a lot of emotion and are unique.  Each photo has a border with a special design –like a carpet border.

Resources:  There is a comprehensive section of backmatter full of resources for kids who wonder what they can do to about child labor around the world.  There is the true story of Iqbal Masih,  information about the United Nations and the work it does for the rights of all children, and UNICEF and its mission for children.   There are many kid-friendly sites listed  and a kid-to-kid global project that helps others.  You can also check out Reach and Teach for more classroom activities for this story.

To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

Saraswati’s Way

Saraswati’s Way

Monika Schroder, Author

Frances Foster Books, Fiction, 2010

Suitable for:  Ages 10 -14 years

Themes:  Indian boy wants to study math, Poverty, Child labor, Hindu culture

Award:  2011 Bank Street – Best Children’s Book of the Year

Schroder has written a powerful, compelling and inspirational novel about twelve-year-old boy from India, who has a gift with numbers.  Akash sees numbers as patterns in his head.  He desperately wants to learn more from the village teacher, but he knows more than his teacher.  Akash shares his dreams of applying for a scholarship to go to a city school with his Bapu (father).  He is told that if the gods want him to have an education, he will.  He prays to Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom, to grant his wish and to help him.

But, life deals Akash a blow when Bapu develops a fever and dies.  His Dadima (grandmother) sends him to work in the landlord’s rock quarry to pay off the family debt.  When Akash mathematically figures out that the landlord is charging interest on the loans, he realizes he will never pay off the family debt.   Late one night he hops a train headed to New Delhi to pursue his dreams.  He is now a street child rummaging for food and stealing to survive.  He wonders if Saraswati has abandoned him.  The streets of New Delhi hold unimaginable dangers, and temptations.  Akash must find a way to make money to pay for a math tutor.  His dreams of attending school present him with some difficult choices.   He can follow a street-smart boy, Rohit, and earn a lot of money dishonestly.  Or he can work with Ramesh,  a kind elderly newspaper vendor, who sees something very special in Akash.   He remembers his last conversation with Bapu before he dies.  “What you desire is on its way.” 

Monika Schroder, an elementary school teacher in New Delhi for seven years, really captures the essence of India — its color, heat, smells, beauty, poverty and child labor practices — through the eyes of a very determined orphaned boy.   In an “Author’s Note” at the end of the book she estimates there are between 100,000 to 500,000 street children.  Schroder also says about 80 percent of the people in India practice Hinduism.  There also is a glossary of Hindu words.   “A boy like Akash has a slim chance of fulfilling his dream in contemporary India,”  said Schroder.  “Yet I wanted to write a hopeful book about a child who, with determination, courage, and some luck achieves his goal against all odds.”