A Boy Called Dickens

  • A Boy Called Dickens

For ages 4 and up.

For years Dickens kept the story of his own childhood a secret. Yet it is a story worth telling. For it helps us remember how much we all might lose when a child's dreams don't come true... As a child, Dickens was forced to live on his own and work long hours in a rat-infested blacking factory. Readers will be drawn into the winding streets of London, where they will learn how Dickens got the inspiration for many of his characters. The 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth is February 7, 2012, and this tale of his little-known boyhood is the perfect way to introduce kids to the great author. Here is historical fiction at its ingenious best.

About the Illustrator
John Hendrix - At this very moment, John is teaching undergraduate illustration at Washington University in St. Louis, working on several picture books for children, hoping to start an apiary, and changing diapers. He lives in St. Louis with his wife Andrea and son Jack.

John Hendrix Blog

What? Dickens for Kids!

Everyone's Getting in the Dicken's Spirit!

Children's books increasingly emphasize visual art...


  • A Junior Library Guild Selection



Through the Looking Glass

New York Times - December 16, 2011

Starred Review - SLJ
HOPKINSON, Deborah. A Boy Called Dickens. illus. by John Hendrix. unpaged. CIP. Random/Schwartz & Wade Bks. Jan. 2012. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-375-86732-3; PLB $20.99. ISBN 978-0-375-96732-0. LC 2010048531.
Gr 2-5–Dickens wrote so many stories about young boys wending their way on the streets of Victorian London that readers might is own childhood was like. This book tells the story of his early years spent working in a boot-blacking factory to help support his family while his father was in debtor's prison. Although the 12-year-old's life was dismal and dreary, he dreams of something better and keeps his hopes alive by reading and making up stories. Hopkinson's engaging text invites readers to experience the story with her: "Come along, now. We are here to search for a boy called Dickens." Although the book has only a few paragraphs per spread, it is full of well-crafted description and detail. Hendrix's acrylic, ink, and pencil illustrations capture the moods of the text. His London landscapes are busy and brimming with smoky atmosphere. Although the backgrounds are dreary, the people are cartoonish, which lightens the tone of the narrative. Hopkinson ends with a brief statement explaining which parts of the story are based on fact, and which are fictionalized. This is a great introduction to Dickens and a possible replacement for worn-out copies of Diane Stanley's Charles Dickens: the Man Who Had Great Expectations (Morrow, 1993), which covers more of Dickens' life, but is, sadly, out of print.–Donna Cardon, Provo City Library, UT

Starred Review - Booklist
Hopkinson, Deborah (Author) , Hendrix, John (Illustrator)
Jan 2012. 40 p. Random/Schwartz & Wade, hardcover, $17.99. (9780375867323). Random/Schwartz & Wade, library edition, $20.99. (9780375967320).
Looking for a picture-book biography of Dickens to celebrate his 200th birthday in 2012? Look elsewhere, as this isn't so much a biography as it is a slice of life, and a revealing one at that. This fictionalized account is set during the time 12-year-old Dickens toiled away in a blacking factory while the rest of his family lived in debtors' prison. To help ease the boredom and stave off hunger, the boy dreams up stories, including a rudimentary seedling of a tale that would become David Copperfield. Even when his family pays off its debt and returns home, the boy who loves books and reading toils away for six shillings a day until shame prompts his father to finally send the boy back to school. Any story of Charles Dickens is also
the story of one of the great atmospheres in literary history, and a central spread of the boy walking home after a grueling work day could well serve as a visual definition of the word Dickensian. In this bustling, grimy scene, Dickens threads his way through "pickpockets; ladies with shattered hopes; a miserly old man; a young gentleman with great expectations; a proud, heartless girl; and keepers of old curiosity shops." Dancing through wide-angled perspectives and tight close-ups, Hendrix aptly sets his cleanly inked figures against cityscapes covered in sooty charcoals. A fine introduction to the writer, and a terrific, completely un-preachy departure point for discussions of child labor and social reform. — Ian Chipman

Starred Review - Kirkus
Metafictive techniques and atmospheric graphite, ink and acrylic compositions effectively pull readers into the life and soul of 12-year-old Charles Dickens.As in Hendrix and Hopkinson's Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek (2008), the narrator addresses the audience directly, inviting viewers to search for the boy in the London fog, experience his long day in the vermin-infested shoe-polish factory and consider the effects of dysfunctional parenting on a youth. Both accessible and rich in simile and metaphor, this fictionalized biography concerns the budding novelist's coming of age, as he ekes out a living (during his family's stint in debtors' prison) and pursues his dream. Page designs vary, some combining four distinct layers: a Leonardo-inspired composition that creates convincing depth in the hazy distance; a realistic cityscape bathed in grays and browns; close-up, highly-focused caricatures, rendered in a brighter palette; and swirling, blue, otherworldly figments of the boy's imagination. He is often "surrounded by…ladies with shattered hopes; a miserly old man; a young gentleman with great expectations…." David Copperfield appears in an imagined encounter relayed to Dickens' friend, Fagin. The final scene portrays the celebrated adult author, after which Hopkinson reflects on Dickens' difficulty in discussing his adolescence and "how much we all might lose when a child's dreams don't come true."

This thoughtful and entertaining portrait offers a model for reading critically that will bear fruit as readers grow. (author's note) (Picture book. 5-9)