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
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)
…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