A Boy Called Dickens

A Boy Called Dickens



Through nonfiction children’s books, my kids (the older two are 5 ½ and 4) are introduced to important characters from history at a young age.  Their foundation of cultural literacy is slowly but steadily building with the help of books like Deborah Hopkinson’s A Boy Called Dickens.  They will have the ability to converse fluently in idioms, allusions, and content at an earlier age because of early exposure to books, and as many nonfiction books as possible.

Or, like this book, historical fiction.

I never knew until reading Hopkinson’s note at the end of this book that Dickens did not talk about his childhood.   He wanted to forget about it because it was such a horrible time in his life.  While other boys his age attended school, Dickens was forced—by his parents—to work in a blacking factory, which makes polish for gentlemen’s boots.  (I like to keep this in mind when I am at a parenting low during my day with my trio.  Heck, at least I’m not enslaving them to work in a dimly lit factory for eight hours a day!)

Hopkinson has an unusual style for a children’s book.  She writes directly to the reader, “speaking” to us, daring us to follow Dickens into the depressing factory to meet his scrooge-like boss and into the dank debtors’ prison where his family lives.  It works, I think, and my children and I got the feeling that we really were following Dickens through his day, bearing witness to his sad reality and, happily, to much more.

A Boy Called Dickens definitely deals with weightier subjects (read: child labor) than most children’s books.  What I like about this one: it is clear that Dickens chooses—even at such a young age!—to keep his mind in a better, happier place.  He is obsessed with stories and longs for books but cannot have them, so he makes up his own stories based on the characters in his real life. 

Hopkinson fabricates how he blends his reality into his later fiction, but that’s okay—she bases her story on plenty of facts, and we see a young writer slowly amassing bits of his future stories during his young days.

Hopkinson wrote this book to “help us remember how much we all might lose when a child’s dreams don’t come true.”  For me, the bigger lesson is in the way Dickens looks at his bleak surroundings, takes a step back, and puts those people and his feelings to good use.  He finds inspiration all around him. 

What a great lesson for little kids who are learning to construct their own sentences and paragraphs!  Like any writer, they wonder: What should I write about?  Here is a book that shows how one of the most talented writers did it—by careful observation of everything and anything that he comes across.  Add a dash of imagination and plenty of toil at the typewriter, and you’ve got yourself a masterpiece or two.  Or more.

This is a great book to give to a child interested in writing—I humbly suggest pairing it with a blank journal, a nice pen and heaps of encouragement.


A Boy Called Dickens

By Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by John Hendrix

Random House www.randomhouse.com  

Price: Availablethrough Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books a Million! for approximately $13

Easy to Read  4
Quality of Illustrations
Appealed to Both Boys and Girls  4
Kept My Child(ren)’s interest  4
I Would Purchase This For My Family  yeso
I would Purchase This As A Gift  yes
 Overall Rating

All ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being highest.

Meet the Reviewer!

Kate Schwarz is a full-time mom

and wife living in Great Falls, VA. 

In addition to reading to her three

small hildren, Kate runs marathons,

Crossfits, and blogs about raising

kids with books at




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