A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix
Enter the world of Charles Dickens’ childhood in this picture book. The fog and cold of London will enfold you, along with the smoking chimneys and the dankness of the Thames. Twelve-year-old Dickens worked in Warren’s blacking factory, wrapping bottles of blacking for sale. He entertained the boy next to him with his stories when they could get away with it. Dickens worked ten hour days and when work is finally completed, he headed home to his tiny attic room where he lived alone. His family was in the debtors’ prison with only Dickens bringing in any money at all. When his father and family is released from prison, Dickens’ life changes and he is finally allowed to go to school. This book celebrates the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth in a way that will resonate with children.
Hopkinson’s story begins with an invitation into London and into understanding the world at that time better. It is actually like entering a novel by the great writer. Readers will chase after the fast-moving Dickens until they figure out where he is headed. There is an element of play and fun from the get-go, even though the subject here is very serious.
Hendrix’s illustrations show the gritty world that Dickens grew up in. Yet all is not fog and work, there is the beauty of story, the world of imagination. It’s an impressive mix of historical accuracy and a more whimsical take on creativity.
Picture book biographies of historical figures can be tricky, since so much information needs to be shared. Here the balance of story telling and imagery is deftly done, creating a book that is noteworthy. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.