Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

A Boy Called Dickens

A Boy Called Dickens

Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator:  John Hendrix 
Historical Fiction Picture Book
For ages 7 to 9
Random House, 2012   ISBN: 978-0375867323

We are in a London that existed many years ago, and it is a foggy winter’s morning. There, standing in a doorway, is a thin twelve-year-old boy called Charles Dickens. We can tell that he is poor and hungry from his threadbare clothes and “hungry eyes.” What we might not realize at first is that this boy is special because he is not only hungry for food; he is also hungry for books and an education.

Charles cannot go to school though. Instead, he has to work in a boot polish factory. To pass the time as he does his monotonous work, Charles entertains himself and his friends by telling stories. The characters in these stories accompany him as he walks home in the evening, and he escapes into his stories as he lies under his threadbare blanket.

On Sundays, Charles goes to visit his parents and siblings who are locked up in the debtor’s prison. Charles’ father could not pay one of his debts, and so he and his wife and their three young children must spend their days in the horrible prison, and Charles has to work.

Finally one May morning Mr. Dickens is set free. Unfortunately, he insists that Charles should keep on working at the factory. Will Charles ever be free of his miserable existence? Will he ever be allowed to go to school?

Based on the true story of Charles Dickens’ childhood, this captivating picture book shines a light on a part of the writer’s life that he kept very private. Young readers familiar with Charles Dickens’ stories will discover that many of the characters and events described in his books were based on people he saw and experiences that he had when he was a child.

Throughout this book, the author weaves fact and fiction together to give readers a memorable story about one of the world’s most famous authors. An author’s note at the back of the book provides readers with further information about Charles Dickens’ life.