nonfiction nuggets…peeking into Charles Dickens’ past

A Boy Called Dickens, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix

Amidst the gray, grimy streets of London in the early 1800s, lives one scrawny, poor boy.  He suffers from cold and damp and skimpy meals. Days are spent working in a factory; nights, sleeping alone in dingy rooms.

Inside this boy, however, is a world of color and life.  He devours books whenever he can get his hands on them, and cultivates a rich imagination.

Years later, as a grown man, this boy — Charles Dickens, of course — would enrich the world through the brilliant insights he developed during  those years of poverty.  Oliver Twist, Ebenezer Scrooge, Betsy Trotwood and little Davey Copperfield — bits and pieces of Dickens’ past, come to life in some of the best stories ever written.

This brand new picture book biography of Dickens has just been published as we mark Dickens’ 200th birthday — Feb. 7, 1812.  It’s an imaginative, brief look at his impoverished boyhood, accenting his on-going longings for learning, for school, for books, for opportunity, which our own children have in such abundance, as well as his flights of fancy which provided escape from the wretched realities shrouding himself and his companions.  Just one final glimpse of the grown Dickens is given, as well as an Author’s Note providing more details.

Although this book’s target audience — ages 6 and up — will likely not know any of Dickens’ works, aside from possibly having watched a play or film of A Christmas Carol — the focus on Dickens’ difficult boyhood, his hunger for books, and his ability to translate his struggles into something beautiful for the world, all make the story meaningful.  John Hendrix’s illustrations will also draw children into this biography — the dusky settings of old London done in graphite and pen-and-ink convey the drab loneliness well, while acrylic paints make Charles and his companions stand out from their surroundings with pluck and life.  Blue, swirling figures of Dickens’ imagination also populate the pages, giving us hints of the stories that will emerge years later.

Dickens is one of my favorite authors, so I was eager to look at this latest biography for children.  It’s beautifully done by a talented team, and a great way to begin luring a young reader towards these great novels.

Here’s the Amazon link:  A Boy Called Dickens