Charles Dickens : England's Most Captivating Storyteller by Catherine Welles-Cole, illustrated by Templar Books, RL 4

Charles Dickens : England's Most Captivating Storyteller is another wonderful entry in the Historical Notebooks series. As with all the books in this series, Charles Dickens : England's Most Captivating Storyteller is interactive and filled with flaps, maps, booklets and envelopes containing letters.

As always when I read a book from the  Historical Notebooks series, I learn something new. The book begins with a look at the family life of the adult Dickens (see below for a great book about his childhood, which included time in the poor house and factory work for young Dickens) noting the importance of the theme of the Victorian family in his writing. Dickens fathered ten children in his lifetime, seven sons and three daughters, all of whom survived past childhood except his youngest daughter Dora. What I didn't realize is that, after naming his firstborn son after himself, Dickens went on to name his other sons after famous English writers. Edward Bulwer Lyton Dickens, Henry Fielding Dickens and Alfred Tennyson Dickens are among his progeny, and there is a family tree inside Charles Dickens : England's Most Captivating Storyteller to help keep the Dickens straight. 

After family life, Charles Dickens : England's Most Captivating Storyteller jumps right to "Fame," including a bibliography of Dickens's work with publication dates as well as a booklet that covers the various illustrators who worked with Dickens. The chapter also discusses Dickens early work as a journalist, his first success at the young age of twenty-four and the importance of his work being published serially. Original covers of his works appear throughout the book. Other important life experiences that shaped Dickens as an author are examined, from school (or the lack thereof), prisons, workhouses and orphans, with fantastic illustrations and reproductions of Dickens's own handwritten manuscripts with revisions. Life in London, industry, the theater and social life are also given spreads packed with interesting information. One of the most fascinating spreads, "Christmas," examines the ways in which Victorians celebrated the holiday before A Christmas Carol (sedately) and after, noting that Dickens is often referred to as the "man who invented Christmas." While Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband is cited as the person who brought the tradition of the Christmas tree from his homeland, Germany, to England, it is Dickens who played a role in popularizing the Christmas tree as well as the idea of Christmas as a time for roaring fires, holiday cheer, cozy celebrations by the fire and, most importantly, the idea of charity toward those less well off.

The book ends with a spread covering Dickens's book tour of America and finally, his legacy and his "importance as a human event in history; a sort of conflagration and transfiguration in the very heart of what is called the conventional Victorian era," as GK Chesterton said of Dickens in his biographical appreciation.

Don't miss these other fantastic titles in the 

    Marco Polo         Charles Darwin


And, for the younger reader or anyone interested in the childhood of Charles Dickens, don't miss A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by John Hendrix. Hopkinson makes the story entirely palatable and readable as a picture book while Hendrix's illustrations are vibrant and filled with action and details.

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