Books & Literature

Book Review: Charles Dickens, by Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Isobel Ross

PICTURE BOOK: Introduce your child to the life of Charles Dickens, the great author of classic literature including Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, and many more.

Good but patchy, presenting an incomplete picture of Dickens.

I did not enjoy this book as much as many others in the series as it skimmed over much of Dickens’ literary works and the illustrations have a cartoonish flatness which I don’t find appealing. Nonetheless, if it introduces young readers to the works of Dickens, it is still a worthwhile addition to the series.

Like many families of the time, Charles Dickens was one of eight children born to a father who had little financial acumen and the family generally lived beyond their means. He loved to read but even more, Charles delighted in making up stories about the people he saw around him. He was a willing scholar who, given their finances, actually had the rare opportunity to attend school.

His father’s debts eventually overwhelmed them and he was sent to a debtor’s prison with his wife and some of his children. Charles’ life was turned upside down when, as the oldest boy aged only 12, he was forced to work in a blacking factory for 10 hours a day to try to support his family. He hated the work and worked hard to better himself as a law clerk, then a journalist.

It was this role which encouraged Dickens to strike out as an author, writing serialised stories which were so popular, Americans waited on the docks to get the new edition as soon at it arrived. The waiting readers, the sailors and the ship depicted for this episode have an odd sense of perspective, while at the same time being somewhat flat. I didn’t enjoy Isobel Ross’ illustrations as much as others in the series.

Dickens’ own life and keen observation of the hardships and inequalities in Victorian England provided inspiration for many of his novels and short stories. The book credits, to my mind, an unwarranted concentration on A Christmas Carol and Dickens’ well known philanthropy with “encouraging readers to open their hearts to those who struggle” and completely ignores his own family breakdown.

I think this is the first time I have not given one of Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara’s books from the Little People, BIG DREAMS series five stars. The reason for this is that she omits a vital part of Dickens’ life story in her biography of the famous author—the fact that he abandoned his wife of 22 years for actress Ellen Ternan, who was 27 years his junior. In this day and age, I believe the author underestimates the ability of children to understand separation and new relationships, given there are so many blended families.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: September 2021
RRP: $19.99

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

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