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An Author Joins Us: Deborah Hopkinson on A Boy Called Dickens

February 6, 2012

Tomorrow, February 7th is Charles Dicken’s birthday! Released early this year, A BOY CALLED DICKENS is a perfect way to celebrate his birthday with children.  This hardcover illustrated account of the author’s early life was named to the Kids Winter 2012 Indie Next list for ages four to eight.  A Boy Called Dickens had received three starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and School Library Journal.

“A fine introduction to the writer, and a terrific, completely un-preachy departure point for discussions of child labor and social reform.” –Booklist

“Hopkinson and Hendrix weave an intriguing and informative narrative to show how Charles Dickens transformed from a young lad on the streets of London to one of the most well-known literary figures of all time. Learn how Dickens used his imagination and creativity to escape his dreary, misfortunate circumstances in this riveting tale.” — Rebecca Moore, Hooray for Books!, Alexandria, VA

Today, we are joined by the book’s author, Deborah Hopkinson to find out more about the book and her reasons for delving into the world of Mr. Dickens!

A Boy Called Dickens

Q: Did you read any Dickens’ titles as a child? Has he been a favorite?

I’m definitely a long-time fan! I don’t recall when I first began to read Dickens, but I still own some old, beat-up copies of Great Expectations, A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield that I’ve had forever. I probably read them long before I was actually ready for the material. But that’s one great thing about Dickens – you can read and enjoy his work on many levels.

Q: What detail about Dickens’ life did you find most interesting in your research for the title?

I’d long known that Dickens had worked in a blacking factory as a boy, but what fascinated me most in researching this book was realizing how that experience haunted him throughout his life. He never told his children about it but kept it a secret.

Q: Can you speak to why the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth is a momentous occasion?

Charles Dickens is someone who truly transcended his times, just as Darwin and Lincoln have. We still enjoy major film adaptations of his work, read or watch A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve, and grapple with issues of urban poverty and child labor. This 2012 bicentennial celebration is a wonderful opportunity to introduce the writer to a new generation of fans, and I think A Boy Called Dickens helps to do that, especially with John Hendrix’s evocative artwork.

Q: Was history your favorite subject in school?

Actually, it wasn’t. Like a lot of students, I found history boring and was an English major in college. It wasn’t until I decided I wanted to write for children that I began to explore history and realize how much I loved it. To me, history is about story, and learning about the lives of people in the past, whether they’re famous like Dickens, or unknown, like the workers on the Empire State Building in my book, Sky Boys.

Q: What role does history play in your life now as you think about what to write next?

Well, I’m always thinking about history and looking for anniversaries that help young people begin to develop historical context. For instance, if you know that Dickens was born 200 years ago that helps paint a picture of what the world was like in the early 1800s. My next book with Random House, though, isn’t about an anniversary, but about Helen Keller, one of the most influential people of the 20th century whose life still fascinates young readers.

For more information about my books and historical thinking, I hope readers will visit my website:

Q: To that end, if you could meet anyone in history, who would it be and why?

I think probably Abraham Lincoln. I’d like to ask him if the incident I wrote about in Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek (also illustrated by John Hendrix), really took place!

Q: What book made the strongest impression on you as a child?

I’d have to say The Secret Garden, hands down. There was something about the haunting world of the moors and the garden of that old, mysterious house that made an indelible impression.

Q: What is one thing about you that would surprise your readers?

Hmm, that’s a hard one. Maybe that I love doing weights and strength conditioning classes. There is a killer biceps track in time to Lada Gaga’s Bad Romance I do that is one of my favorites!

Q: As an author, how do you feel about the role social media plays in your writing life?

Since I have a full time job in addition to writing, I don’t have time to write a blog or keep up with Twitter myself, but I like writing guest blogs to connect with readers. To tell the truth, with the limited free time I have I’d still rather curl up with a good book than anything else!

Q: What is one piece of advice you would like to give to aspiring authors?

Now, this one is easy: Keep reading!

Q: Is there anything that you would like to say to your readers and fans?

I just want to thank all the readers, teachers, parents and librarians who love books and make it possible to publish books about history. It’s an honor to work with amazing talents like John Hendrix, editor Anne Schwartz and art director, Lee Wade. These folks are dedicated to bringing excellent books into the world and willing to take a chance on unusual topics – even books about writers from 200 years ago! Thank you.

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