What did it feel like to be a boy or girl growing up in 19th century England? From the memoirs, stories and sketches of eighteen young men and women, none of them famous, Avery has created an astoundingly vivid panorama of Victorian England. Spontaneous and authentic, her young informants come from every station in life, for in those days children were not set apart, petted and privileged as they are today. When the entire country was readying for a Napoleonic invasion, John Shipp, age twelve and brought up in the parish poor-house, ran after the recruiting sergeant to ask would he ""take I for a sodger"" and shortly thereafter was on his way to South Africa to fight the Kaffirs, a bullied but self-important little fife-major. Only a little older was ""Dandy Dick"" who ran off to join the wild, drunken navvies blasting the tunnels for the London-to-Birmingham Railway. Perhaps the most hard-pressed was Charles Shaw, only seven years old when he worked fourteen hours a day in the Potteries earning a shilling a week. Others, like little Elizabeth Grant, recall a life of privilege on an enormous estate in the Scottish Highlands. The food riots and strikes of the Hungry Forties, the Chartist banners and hymns, the celebrations and festivities in London when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert, the Great Exhibit of 1851 with the glittering Crystal Palace, the corpse of a murderer on a roadside gibbet --all are remembered with the startling immediacy of childhood. Avery's adventurous and indomitable children are to be found on packet-ships bound for America, furtively seeking an education in the hedge-schools of Ireland, on the battlefields of Crimea and in Miss Buss' North London Collegiate School for young ladies. With her own commentaries to provide continuity and a lavish selection of contemporary prints and engravings, this is a quite remarkable collage of times past.