Last February marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens and what better way to celebrate than with a picture book to introduce him to a new generation of young readers. A Boy Called Dickens chronicles Charles Dickens' early childhood working in a factory and living on his own--while the rest of his family was living in a debtor's prison. Taken out of school and forced to sell his books to a pawn shop, Charles is so obviously desperate for more of these stories that he becomes a storyteller himself. He gets through his rather bleak days by telling stories to his fellow coworkers and dreaming up new ones at night in his bed. And Deborah Hopkinson does a great job evoking this very same storytelling feel. Throughout the text she addresses the reader and asks us questions (although most are rhetorical) which gives the book a very obvious and present narrator. This book makes for a great read-aloud in a classroom for this very reason.
|© 2012 by John Hendrix|
In addition to the appropriately pitched voice, John Hendrix's illustrations are completely spot on. The characters are all varying levels of gritty and the streets are all grimy, which paints a (thankfully) much more realistic picture of the 1820s than I would have expected in a picture book. Hendrix also has a great way of illustrating the characters and stories floating around in Charles' head. He draws them as these wisps of ghastly blue that I can only imagine are meant to evoke the ghosts from Charles Dickens' own A Christmas Carol. In addition to the wonderful illustrations, Hendrix also incorporates some of his beautiful typography throughout the book too. As you can see from the cover, Hendrix has a great eye for type design and including this "word art" adds a lot to the mood of a picture book about an author. You can see my favorite spread of the entire book above and, as you probably notice, it has everything: dirt & grime, ghoulish inspiration, and words leaping off of the page.