Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London

  • Author:  Andrea Warren
  • Reading level: Young Adult
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children (September 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547395744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547395746

Product Description


Provoked by the horrors he saw every day, Charles Dickens wrote novels that were originally intended as instruments for social change — to save his country’s children.
Charles Dickens is best known for his contributions to the world of literature, but during his young life, Dickens witnessed terrible things that stayed with him: families starving in doorways, babies being “dropped” on streets by mothers too poor to care for them, and a stunning lack of compassion from the upper class. After his family went into debt and he found himself working at a shoe-polish factory, Dickens soon realized that the members of the lower class were no different than he, and, even worse, they were given no chance to better themselves. It was then that he decided to use his greatest talent, his writing ability, to tell the stories of those who had no voice.
From Goodreads:
Charles Dickens is best-known for his contributions to the world of literature: Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol.  In Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London, acclaimed historical author Andrea Warren shares with readers the motivations behind Dickens' novels and then brings readers headlong into the poverty-stricken world of 19th century London. During his young life, Dickens witnessed terrible things: families starving in doorways, babies being "dropped" on streets by mothers too poor or too sick to care for them, and most of all he witnessed a stunning lack of compassion from the upper class.  After his family went into debt and he found himself working at a blacking factory (where boot polish was made), Dickens, who had been raised to believe that the lower classes were not only undeserving of anything better, but were so dirty that he could be contaminated by them, soon realized that they were no different than he, and even worse, they were given no chances to better themselves.  It was at this blacking factory that he met a kind friend named Bob Fagin, who would go on to be named one of Dickens' most memorable (and villanous!) characters in Oliver Twist

At 25, Dickens became the toast of London with his first novel, The Pickwick Papers.  People of all classes read it - the poor would pool together money to purchase this serial novel.  But Dickens had more serious stories to tell: he wanted to tell of the workhouses were small children toiled for their entire lives; he wanted to tell of all the horrible things he had seen the upper class turn their back to.  He wanted to tell one child's story, and that child became Oliver.  With the runaway success of Oliver Twist, and it's memorable "Please sir, I want some more," Dickens was thrust into the public spotlight as a spokesman championing the rights of the deserving poor.  His time as an instrument of social change was just beginning.  Along with some contemporaries in the world of music, art and education, Dickens changed school systems, hospitals, and orphanages, all while representing the lowest class with the same respect as the upper class in his novels. 

Spirited, smart, and handsome, but not without his own demons and personal issues, Charles Dickens is an enigmatic character whose name is recognized the world over, but whose achievements outside the literary realm are not often discussed.  Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London melds these two legacies in an intriguing, compelling and fast-paced biography, filled with historical images and photographs. 

About the Author



Andrea Warren's books about children are the result of her passion for history and her interest in young readers. She has been a professional writer for twenty years and works from her home office in the Kansas City area. Her first book for Houghton Mifflin, Orphan Train Rider, won the 1996 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for nonfiction.
My Review
I found this a particularly fascinating book because it is a part of my family history.  One side of my ancestry were very poor Londoners, in fact East Enders or Cockneys.  My great-grandmother spent her childhood years in a workhouse because her widowed mother was too poor to care for her and her siblings.  What an honest and realistic look at the plight of the children of London in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  This book probes how the writings of Charles Dickens enlightened people to the realities of the poor.  The book chronicles the life of Charles Dickens and the changes in his early life that brought him in contact with the poor of London who he would write about so brilliantly.

Did you know that the life span of an average London resident almost two hundred years ago was twenty-seven years.  And for the poor twenty-two.  Amazing. London was a filthy, violent, despair ridden city for most.  This book has wonderful illustrations, both photographic and drawn.

The author encourages everyone to something to help improve the lot of others.  What a wonderful book for young and older reads alike.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this sounds like a book I would really like. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I just added it to my TBR.