Street Child by Berlie Doherty

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Street Child by Berlie Doherty

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A vivid and moving imagining of the real-life encounter between Doctor Barnardo and a street child named Jim Jarvis. It has both emotional and educational value. Deservingly reissued here as an addition to Harper Collins's Essential Modern Classics list.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 146 Date: September 2009
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0007311257

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When Jim's father dies, he and his mother and sisters are thrown out of their cottage. Their new home is a single room in an overcrowded tenement. Food is scarce since Jim's mother can't earn much of a wage on her own. And when she falls ill - a cholera epidemic is sweeping Victorian London - the money runs out altogether and they are evicted again. Despite being horribly ill, Jim's mother manages to give her two daughters a chance of a job by throwing herself on the mercy of an old friend. But she and Jim are destitute and are taken to the workhouse.

It's the last Jim sees of his mother. She dies that very night. The workhouse is a grim and dreadful place and Jim runs away. But London is a dangerous and lonely place and Jim faces a fight for survival that today's children can barely imagine. He's not alone either - there are thousands of street children like him and no-one to help them.

Street Child is based on the story of a real person. Jim Jarvis was the street child whose plight inspired Dr Barnardo to open his first home in Stepney in 1870. He had already been running free "Ragged Schools" for poor children, and it was Jim, who attended one of them, who showed Barnardo where all the homeless children slept. It was an horrendous life, full of danger and disease and violence. During the Industrial Revolution, London's population had exploded and social welfare had completely failed to keep up. It was in desperate need of philanthropists like Barnardo.

Berlie Doherty has twice - and deservedly - won the Carnegie Medal. She writes accessible and vivid books, rooted in real life situations. She never takes her eye off the ball and she has an incomparable instinct for what will keep children turning the page. There's no judgementalism, but there's also a clear authorial tone that speaks up for truth, justice and dignity for all. Street Child is a fascinating novel, historically accurate and with a winning central character. Still better, it is based on a real story from history and as such, it provides a spur to find out more. There's a useful bit of historical background at the end, plus an interesting Q&A with Doherty herself, so the book is as desirable on a school library bookshelf as it is on the bedside table at home.

Recommended.

My thanks to the nice people at Harper Collins for sending the book.

Although it has very different subject matter, children who like Berlie Doherty's tone and style will also enjoy The Peppermint Pig by Nina Bawden which is similarly vivid and accessible. Other enjoyable books set in Victorian times and which show the horrendous poverty suffered by some include Baker Street Mysteries and The Haunting of Nathaniel Wolfe by Brian Keaney.

Buy Street Child by Berlie Doherty at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Street Child by Berlie Doherty at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Street Child by Berlie Doherty at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Street Child by Berlie Doherty at Amazon.com.


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