Is it possible to share some Charles Dickens with the kids? Isn’t he too, um, Victorian for children? In honour of Charles Dickens 200th birthday, I look at ways to introduce and share some of his works with children.
First, a brief introduction to this incredible novelist: Although Dickens lived in the vastly different world of 1800s England, many of his themes are still relevant today: The impact of fast-paced technological changes on society, and the growing gulf between rich and poor speak to the 21st century reader. Ebeneezer’s Scrooge’s meanness and Oliver’s Twist’s line, “Please Sir, Can I have some more?” are familiar even to those who have not read Dickens’ novels.
Pre-teen children will find the language and themes in the original versions of these novels challenging. Biographer Claire Tomalin suggests that kids today just don’t have the attention span to read Dickens. Let’s not blame “today’s kids.” I don’t think Dickens was a children’s writer, BUT I would recommend sharing the family version of his novels in books and film as a great introduction to his works. Here are my recommendations that hopefully will develop early appreciation and curiosity about this great novelist. They may just entice a current or future adult to read the beautiful original works.
1- Oliver! This musical film version of Oliver Twist is a classic family favourite. Great tunes and actors, with a less evil version of Fagin. Just a word of caution: The scene in which Bill Sykes kills Nancy can be disturbing to some children, even though no blood is shown. Be warned. Look for the 1968 version of the film.
I have to say this earlier version looks great too!
2- Disney’s A Christmas Carol (Starring Jim Carrey.) I thought this was a great film adaptation, and there are many others too numerous to name here.
3- Adapted Classics. The jury is still out on whether reading adapted Classics is cheating. I view adaptations as a vehicle of introduction to the real works. The key is to find quality adaptations that still preserve some of the language and flavour of the original. Unfortunately, all my versions are out of print, so I cannot recommend any here. I would love to hear if you have a copy in print to recommend.
I wonder if any dedicated Dickens fans will be baking special birthday cakes today. What would those cakes look like?
Hmmm… Yes, it exists. Check out this cake for Dickens with 200 candles!
p.s. I’m going to start reading “The Old Curiosity Shop” for the first time. Can’t wait.