Dear Mr. Dickens

Albert Whitman. Oct. 2021. 32p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807515303.
Gr 1-5–It is difficult to find children’s books that focus on the severity of anti-Semitism that aren’t about the persecution of the Jewish people during eras such as the Holocaust, pogroms, or the Inquisition. Churnin, known for her feel-good picture biographies about unlikely heroes, examines a less-familiar period in history in her newest work. The story centers on real-life Eliza Davis, a devoted reader and fan of Charles Dickens, who took it upon herself to write to the celebrated author about her concerns with the depiction of the Jewish thief, Fagin, in Oliver Twist. Fagin’s character encouraged “a vile prejudice” during a time in mid-19th century England when Jewish people faced discrimination. What unfolds in the story proves that with pen and paper, and some courage, we can persuade our own models to make their wrongs right. Excerpts from Dickens’s correspondence with Eliza and sprinklings of literary references will especially delight Dickens fans. Not only is this historical account well written, Stancliffe’s illustrations powerfully transport readers back to the era with well-placed details such as the floral wallpaper in Eliza’s home, and her crinoline dress and puffy sleeves. The only flaw is that the illustrations characterize Eliza as young, but she was 47 when she wrote her first letter to Dickens.
VERDICT An important addition to libraries that fills a gap about anti-Semitism and confronting prejudice.

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