Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by John Hendrix

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.

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