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A BOY CALLED DICKENS by Deborah Hopkinson Kirkus Star


by Deborah Hopkinson & illustrated by John Hendrix

Age Range: 5 - 9

Pub Date: Jan. 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-375-86732-3
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

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)