A Boy Called Dickens

Deborah Hopkinson, Author, John Hendrix, Illustrator
Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by John Hendrix. Random/Schwartz & Wade, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-375-86732-3
Reviewed on: 11/21/2011
Release date: 01/10/2012
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.)
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