Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

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Overview

Provoked by the horrors he saw every day, Charles Dickens wrote novels that were originally intended as instruments for social change — to save his country’s children.
Charles Dickens is best known for his contributions to the world of literature, but during his young life, Dickens witnessed terrible things that stayed with him: families starving in doorways, babies being “dropped” on streets by mothers too poor to care for them, and a stunning lack of compassion from the upper ...

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Overview

Provoked by the horrors he saw every day, Charles Dickens wrote novels that were originally intended as instruments for social change — to save his country’s children.
Charles Dickens is best known for his contributions to the world of literature, but during his young life, Dickens witnessed terrible things that stayed with him: families starving in doorways, babies being “dropped” on streets by mothers too poor to care for them, and a stunning lack of compassion from the upper class. After his family went into debt and he found himself working at a shoe-polish factory, Dickens soon realized that the members of the lower class were no different than he, and, even worse, they were given no chance to better themselves. It was then that he decided to use his greatest talent, his writing ability, to tell the stories of those who had no voice.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Making no assumptions about her readers’ prior knowledge of Dickens, his novels, or the period, Warren writes in a clear, direct, vivid manner that brings it all to life."—Booklist, starred review

"A well-researched biography explores how Charles Dickens used his stories to effect social change for London’s most destitute children... A lively biography and an interesting lens through which to see a venerated author."—Kirkus Reviews  

"The author adeptly makes connections between Dickens’s own experiences and key events and characters in some of his greatest novels... Readers will come away with a real sense of Dickens’s immense influence in both literature and society as well as an appreciation for the compassionate, tireless man who championed Victorian England’s most vulnerable citizens."—School Library Journal, starred review

Children's Literature - Lois Gross
In this engagingly written, meticulously researched life of Dickens, the historical author is just the hook for a study of the treatment of poor children in Victorian England. Warren has written a book that reads almost as a story with young Charles as the main character. Dickens, himself the product of a poor home (his father was chronically debt-ridden and spent time in debtor's jail), went to do factory work as a young boy. The product of a "respectable" upbringing, he was a gentleman among urchins, but learned of the hard lot of slum children in his daily experiences, even accepted by some as a peer. Because of his family situation (his mother moved the family into prison with his father to avoid the horrors of the workhouse), Dickens became self-taught, and a legal apprentice when it was still possible to work your way up to practice law. Dickens had different ambitions and wrote his first successful novel at age twenty-five. Once Warren gets into Dickens' adult years, she diverges from his life to paint a compelling picture of the lives of London's teeming slums and the children that lived there. Warren explores Dickens' commitment to reform, as well as the charitable work of his fellow artists, George Frederick Handel and artist William Hogarth. While most of British society ignored the blighted slum conditions, reformers such as Dr. Thomas Barnardo and captain Thomas Coram built foundling homes and schools to alleviate the unspeakable conditions of children "dropped" on the street to die and young women driven out of homes for being impregnated by employers. The genius of Warren's writing is that it is as compelling as a novel and seamlessly weaves Dickens life into the descriptions of his times. A top-flight example of historical storytelling. Reviewer: Lois Gross
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—Most children who pick up this book will be close to the age at which Dickens left behind the comforts of his middle-class life and entered service at a boot-black company. It was an experience that traumatized him, yet drove him to become one of the greatest social reformers of Victorian England. Warren's compelling and highly readable book introduces readers not only to the revered author, but also to a society in which children left home and went to work at age five, if they managed to live that long; a society that believed that the poor deserved their misery by virtue of having been born to it; a society in which it was preferable to live in a prison rather than a workhouse. The author adeptly makes connections between Dickens's own experiences and key events and characters in some of his greatest novels. Warren also introduces other reformers—Thomas Coram, George Frideric Handel, William Hogarth, Thomas Barnardo—some of whom were Dickens's contemporaries, so that readers understand the groundwork that was already in place as he worked toward attaining social justice for children. The level of research that went into this book is detailed in an extensive bibliography and copious endnotes. Well-chosen black-and-white photos and reproductions appear throughout. Readers will come away with a real sense of Dickens's immense influence in both literature and society as well as an appreciation for the compassionate, tireless man who championed Victorian England's most vulnerable citizens.—Kara Schaff Dean, Walpole Public Library, MA
Kirkus Reviews

A well-researched biography explores how Charles Dickens used his stories to effect social change for London's most destitute children.

Warren explores how Dickens' personal experience with poverty and his astute observations of the poor informed his writing. He then used his stories to advocate for improvements in the lives of the most wretched of London's street and institutionalized children. Dickens' determination to overcome his family difficulties through perseverance and talent are on display. The author further develops the theme of artist as reformer/activist by including the stories of composer George Frederic Handel and painter William Hogarth and their support for the Foundling Hospital, a charity that years later would benefit from Dickens' attention. Warren's account is full of detail regarding the desperate plight of London's children during the 19th century and makes clear how little help was available. She uses examples from Dickens' work and the awareness created by his compelling storytelling as factors that opened the eyes of many and resulted in societal changes. In addition, she connects this history to current problems in many places in the world. "What Charles Dickens wrote 170 years ago remains true today: life is difficult for the poor—and is most difficult of all for poor children."

A lively biography and an interesting lens through which to see a venerated author. (source notes, bibliography, author's note, index) (Nonfiction 10-14)

Simon Callow
…offers a solid and deeply felt account of the condition of these unfortunate kids and what Dickens did for them.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547395746
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/29/2011
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 485,641
  • Age range: 12 years
  • Lexile: 1160L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.50 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

In 1996, Houghton Mifflin published Andrea Warren's first nonfiction book for young readers, Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story, which won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award. Andrea travelled to London to do extensive research for this book; she has a master's degree in British Literature from the University of Nebraska. Andrea lives in Kansas.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 8, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    OLIVER TWIST showed Charles Dickens "how much power he wielded as a writer"

    Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812 - 1870 was born of lower middle class parents. Both were in domestic service and could afford to send the future novelist's sister to a grand music school. Both parents were gifted story tellers. At age 12, just before Charles's father went to debtors' prison, the boy began working ten hour days six days a week in a factory that made boot blacking substances. For the first time the well dressed, clean, carefully spoken boy was rubbing shoulders with desperate children of the lower classes of London. *** The lower classes had been taught that they had been placed low by the will of God and they were to accept their poverty, dirt and horrible health meekly. Middle and upper classes, aristocracy and royalty looked down on them, wanted nothing to do with them. Charles Dickens, by contrast, in daily contact with them, saw that many if not most of the poor were "deserving" poor. They had done nothing wrong. People better off than they should notice them, feel for them and work to improve their terrible plight. *** It is a major thesis of Andrea Warren's 2011 CHARLES DICKENS AND THE STREET CHILDREN OF LONDON that Charles Dickens in most of his 20 novels and numberless short stories deliberately set out to inspire readers in a position to uplift the poor to do so. His first published book was a collection of BOZ stories. His first novel was OLIVER TWIST. That novel was also England's first novel with a boy as its hero. Instantly Charles Dickens was on all men's lips and in many readers' hearts, including Queen Victoria's. *** Dickens made Britons hate workhouses, poorhouses, miserable private schools and the whole system of parish-run doles for the poor. "Dickens learned from the public's embrace of OLIVER TWIST and the subsequent outcry against the workhouses how much power he wielded as a writer, and he was determined to use it to end the suffering of innocent boys by closing down the Yorkshire schools" (Ch 11) *** This is a book for teens and young adults. It presents a debatable portrait of Charles Dickens as essentially a social reformer whose tool was his pen. Author Andrea Warren makes it clear that though Dickens did much good for the poor, he was not alone, nor indeed the first to do so. Musician Handel and painter Hogarth are singled out for special praise as is the ship captain who rescued foundlings. *** The book has a good bibliography and points out channels in which today's young people can work to improve the lot of today's poor. I found it helpful that the author was careful on almost every third page to make it clear exactly how old Charles Dickens was in a given year. In a couple of ways, Dickens reminds of the young Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936). Both were teen age journalists. Both had written notable works before they were 25. Neither was a university man, though Kipling's formal education was better. This book, CHARLES DICKENS AND THE STREET CHILDREN OF LONDON is a keeper. -OOO-

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