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A Boy Called Dickens

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Overview

For years Dickens kept the story of his own childhood a secret. Yet it is a story worth telling. For it helps us remember how much we all might lose when a child's dreams don't come true . . . As a child, Dickens was forced to live on his own and work long hours in a rat-infested blacking factory. Readers will be drawn into the winding streets of London, where they will learn how Dickens got the inspiration for many of his characters. The 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth was February 7, 2012, and this tale of...

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Overview

For years Dickens kept the story of his own childhood a secret. Yet it is a story worth telling. For it helps us remember how much we all might lose when a child's dreams don't come true . . . As a child, Dickens was forced to live on his own and work long hours in a rat-infested blacking factory. Readers will be drawn into the winding streets of London, where they will learn how Dickens got the inspiration for many of his characters. The 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth was February 7, 2012, and this tale of his little-known boyhood is the perfect way to introduce kids to the great author. This Booklist Best Children's Book of the Year is historical fiction at its ingenious best.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Though Charles Dickens’s canon includes more stories about rather than for children, this intimate, fictionalized account of the writer’s boyhood, from the creators of Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, suggests how his budding literary imagination foreshadowed his future achievements. Hopkinson’s conversational prose immediately lands readers on the foggy streets of Victorian London: “Come along, now. We are here to search for a boy called Dickens.” The 12-year-old boy tells stories to entertain his colleagues at the factory where he works while his family is stuck in debtors’ prison; one tale features an orphan named David who tries to persuade his Aunt Betsey to take him in. As readers follow Dickens through the streets, where he’s “surrounded by pickpockets; ladies with shattered hopes; a miserly old man; a young gentleman with great expectations,” his inspiration is palpable. Dominated by grays and browns, Hendrix’s mixed-media illustrations picture a grim, coal-dusted London, one in which the characters taking shape in Dickens’s mind sweep through the streets as blue specters; yet Hendrix also conveys the boy’s optimism and creativity during a difficult chapter in his childhood. Ages 4–9. Author’s and illustrator’s agent: Writers House. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Metafictive techniques and atmospheric graphite, ink and acrylic compositions effectively pull readers into the life and soul of 12-year-old Charles Dickens. As in Hendrix and Hopkinson's Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek (2008), the narrator addresses the audience directly, inviting viewers to search for the boy in the London fog, experience his long day in the vermin-infested shoe-polish factory and consider the effects of dysfunctional parenting on a youth. 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. Page designs vary, some combining four distinct layers: a Leonardo-inspired composition that creates convincing depth in the hazy distance; a realistic cityscape bathed in grays and browns; close-up, highly-focused caricatures, rendered in a brighter palette; and swirling, blue, otherworldly figments of the boy's imagination. He is often "surrounded by…ladies with shattered hopes; a miserly old man; a young gentleman with great expectations…." David Copperfield appears in an imagined encounter relayed to Dickens' friend, Fagin. The final scene portrays the celebrated adult author, after which Hopkinson reflects on Dickens' difficulty in discussing his adolescence and "how much we all might lose when a child's dreams don't come true." This thoughtful and entertaining portrait offers a model for reading critically that will bear fruit as readers grow. (author's note) (Picture book. 5-9)
Simon Callow
It is a portrait of the artist as a boy, very touching and believable…a very attractive production, with clear, imaginative text.
—The New York Times Book Review
From the Publisher
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."

School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—Dickens wrote so many stories about young boys wending their way on the streets of Victorian London that readers might wonder what his own childhood was like. This book tells the story of his early years spent working in a boot-blacking factory to help support his family while his father was in debtor's prison. Although the 12-year-old's life was dismal and dreary, he dreams of something better and keeps his hopes alive by reading and making up stories. Hopkinson's engaging text invites readers to experience the story with her: "Come along, now. We are here to search for a boy called Dickens." Although the book has only a few paragraphs per spread, it is full of well-crafted description and detail. Hendrix's acrylic, ink, and pencil illustrations capture the moods of the text. His London landscapes are busy and brimming with smoky atmosphere. Although the backgrounds are dreary, the people are cartoonish, which lightens the tone of the narrative. Hopkinson ends with a brief statement explaining which parts of the story are based on fact, and which are fictionalized. This is a great introduction to Dickens and a possible replacement for worn-out copies of Diane Stanley's Charles Dickens: the Man Who Had Great Expectations (Morrow, 1993), which covers more of Dickens' life, but is, sadly, out of print.—Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375867323
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 1/10/2012
  • Pages: 40
  • Sales rank: 645,015
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Lexile: AD750L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.60 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Hopkinson

DEBORAH HOPKINSON is the author of Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, an ALA Notable Book and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book. Her Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, illustrated by John Hendrix, was an ALA Notable Book and a Junior Library Guild Selection. She is also the author of the ALA Notable Apples to Oregon. Her many other acclaimed titles include Under the Quilt of Night and Fannie in the Kitchen, recipient of four starred reviews.

JOHN HENDRIX's illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone among other publications. He illustrated the chapter book How to Save Your Tail, by Mary Hanson, and the ALA Notable picture book Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek, among others. His work has been recognized by the Society of Illustrators, American Illustration, and Communication Arts. He currently teaches illustration at Washington University in St. Louis. Learn more at JohnHendrix.com

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Great Historical Fiction

    Wonderfully written and illustrated. Plenty of good classroom conversations in my second grade class. Highly recommend it.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2013

    great story my grandson loved it.

    wonderful book for a young boy. always a classic.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2012

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