A Boy Called Dickens
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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 was February 7, 2012, and this tale of his little-known boyhood is the perfect way to introduce kids to the great author. This Booklist Best Children's Book of the Year is historical fiction at its ingenious best.
Dickens walks on, surrounded by pickpockets; ladies with shattered hopes; a miserly old man; a young gentleman with great expectations; a proud, heartless girl. There are lawyers, clerks, convicts, and keepers of old curiosity shops. There are even ghosts and spirits. And children like Dickens, trying to hold on to a dream. All these characters and their stories swirl about the boy like the fog. They follow him to a dingy house, where he climbs a narrow staircase to a tiny attic room.
Inside are his cot, a washbasin, and the shelf to hold half of his loaf of bread for morning. Dickens carefully lights a candle and reaches under the thin blanket for his most prized possessions—a pencil and slate. For the first time, he smiles. Soon his drab room disappears. All day long, the story of the runaway boy called David has filled his thoughts. Now he begins to scratch out David’s journey—as the runaway trudges day after day, stopping to sell his jacket for a few pennies to buy
Dickens opens his eyes. Most likely his own pride is hurt—he is ashamed to see his son on display. We cannot hear exactly what is said, but Mr. Dickens quarrels with the factory owner. Charles is sent home. His mother—and Charles never can forgive her for this—tries to patch up the quarrel so that he can return to work. But his father, thank goodness, says no. Now, once again, let us follow the boy. It’s a clear, sunny morning. He is walking briskly; his eyes are bright. And what’s
after his twelfth birthday, when this story takes place, he was sent to work in a factory. Dickens kept this period of his life a secret for many years. It wasn’t until 1847 that he wrote about this time in an autobiographical piece that he shared with his friend and biographer John Forster. Dickens never published a full account of his life, but we can see traces of his childhood in many of his works, especially David Copperfield. Like Dickens, young David is neglected and sent to work in a
the door flies open and the foreman strides in. “Silence!” he commands. “Back to work.” We must wait a long time for the workday to be done—ten hours. Finally, Dickens and the other boys spill out into the darkness. Dickens shoves his hands into his pockets to keep them warm. He starts home through the crowded streets, passing vendors who bellow, He stops to buy his meal—a penny loaf of bread, a small hunk of cheese—and splurges on a four-penny plate of beef from a cookshop. Then