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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London, written by Andrea Warren. Houghton Mifflin, Thomas Allen & Son, 2011. $19.50

"Working children were of special concern to Dickens. In his travels as a reporter, he had realized that his life as a bootblack boy had been easy compared to the harsh conditions imposed on armies of children employed in factories and mills all over the country."

Charles Dickens wanted life to be better for the children who lived in London at the time he was writing. He had shared the poverty and the hopelessness that many were experiencing and he felt that his books could bring attention to their plight. He wanted life to be better for them. Whether they were living on the streets or in orphanages, he wanted reform.

In other books that I have read about this fine writer and activist, I learned much about his family life and how it stoked his determination to live a better life. It is a harrowing look at what life was like for those who were penniless in Victorian England, and allows readers to understand that there was little being done to help them. Dickens' stories set the stage for Londoners and his many other fans to recognize some of what was happening right in front of them:

"It was down these lanes and alleys that the poor lived, crowded into dingy, dirty tenements. The poorest of the poor - those who had so far managed to stay out of the despicable workhouses that were their last resort - lived on the streets. Most sought out dark spots, feeling safest when they could not be seen."

He was such a brilliant storyteller and so, his works actually occasioned some change. His concern for what he saw as he walked the streets of London was appalling to him. At the time he began writing his short stories, essays and books he wanted to be sure that those children had a part to play in that writing. The author makes an interesting point when she talks about problems being not that much different today as they were back then:

"What Charles Dickens wrote 170 years ago remains true today: life is difficult for the poor—and is most difficult of all for poor children."

Before she begins to write about his writing, Andrea Warren gives readers a pretty clear picture of what life was like for Charles, from his very early years to the hard times that befell the family and his being the only wage earner doing long hours of gruelling factory work.

The author includes real stories of the time and summaries of Dickens' written works to inform her readers. Through careful research and enlightened writing she brings Charles Dickens to us as a man to be admired, and honored for the work he did to inspire and entertain so many people. She adds to her text by including web sites, and books for further reading, as well as an index that readers might find useful.

In her introduction she shares her thoughts on the legacy that the writer left, not only in his books but also in his philanthropic endeavors:

"As you read about Dickens and what he and others accomplished for London's poorest children, I hope you will be inspired to use your own talents, whatever they are, to ease the suffering of the less fortunate all over the planet. Like Charles Darwin, you too can help to make the world a better place."  

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