Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens
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Osborne, Mary Pope and Natalie Pope Boyce. 2010. Rags and Riches: Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens. (Magic Tree House Research Guide series #22)New York: Random House.
This is the companion book to A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time, a historical fantasy romp through Dickens' A Christmas Carol,which is why it has the subtitle, Kids in the Time of Charles Dickens, when "Kids in the Victorian Era" might seem more logical.
Charles Dickens lived from 1812 - 1870, largely in the Victoria Era. Queen Victoria reigned from 1837- 1901. Rich or poor, life was difficult for Britain's children in those days. Rich children suffered from serious diseases and were raised largely apart from their parents. Boys were sent away to strict schools while girls studied at home with a governess those subjects which were thought most likely to win them a suitable husband - French, dancing, drawing, music. Of course, they were still much better off than the poor children and street children who filled the streets of London. They slept outside in rags or lived in debtors' prisons or squalid housing. They often worked in dangerous factories for long hours with little or no pay - beginning as young as five years old! Cholera and typhoid were epidemic. Life for a poor child in the time of Charles Dickens was wretched. Rags to Riches explains all these facets of Victorian Era life and more, with liberal use of sketches and period photographs.
It is doubtful that any child can read the accounts in the chapter, "Jobs for Poor Kids," and not be affected. Imagine life as a climbing boy, often only five or six years old,
Since they were small, they could squeeze through narrow parts of the chimney.Quite a different reality from the friendly, Bert, of Mary Poppins fame!
Climbing boys climbed to the top of the chimney and swept the coal dust out on their way back down. They got cuts and bruises from the jagged bricks. To toughen up their skin, salt water was rubbed into it.
If the boys got scared and stopped climbing, the chimney sweeps jabbed their feet with pins or lit fires to keep them moving. At times climbing boys got burned or stuck in the chimneys and suffocated.
A children's highlight from the Victoria Era? The birth of the modern children's picture book - Beatrix Potter's illustrated Tales of Peter Rabbit. Of course, without money, poor children likely only glimpsed the tiny little books through shop windows.
This is not an easy topic for which to create a research guide. A chronological approach does not work well, and the many aspects of a child's life are almost too large in scope for a book of this small scale. Still, Pope has created a semblance of order, dividing the topic into six chapters: 'Hard Times for Kids," "What Charles Dickens Saw," "The London of Dickens," "Jobs for Poor Kids," Rich Kids," and "How Things Changed."
Avenues for further research and an index complete this guide book.