Monday, June 06, 2011

Done with Dickens

I'm trilled to say I've just completed my fourth illustrated book for children, "A Boy Called Dickens," which will be published by Schwartz & Wade books in January 2012. The first draft of the story was roughed out in October, but I've been working on the final art since February. 

The story follows the childhood of Charles Dickens, a true account of hardship and misery that informed his life's work writing stories about London's working class poor. 

The book was written by Deborah Hopkinson, the author who collaborated with me on "Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek," my first foray in the world of picture books back in 2008. She is a huge fan of history and especially the stories of Charles Dickens. She's written a warm and charming book about his formative years highlighting a particularly foul time in Charles' life. 

Though my publisher has asked me not to show all the images from the book, I've selected a few of my favorites to give you a sneak peek, including the cover and endpapers. Here is an image of the full jacket, including the back, flaps and spine without all the additional type on it.

When you think of a story about Dickens, you imagine a foggy soot covered London, which is exactly where we start. Much of the classic tropes about London life in the 19th century come directly from Dicken's childhood experiences. 

For this book, I worked a bit differently than I have in the past. I used ink only in selective places, to highlight characters or objects, and the background and atmosphere of the images were created with graphite sticks and pencil. This was tricky to figure out how to keep the wash from obliterating the graphite entirely. I experimented and figured out I could lightly fix the pencil and still get the washes to go on top of it successfully. You'll see that most of these images have open/flat passages in them, which were designed for the story text to be placed there, which is not in these images. 

He worked long days in a Blacking Factory (shoe polish), was cold and hungry at night while his parents we're incarcerated in debtors prison. The character of Bob Fagin, from Oliver Twist, was the name of good friend he knew at the Blacking Factory. 

Deborah imagines him going home and making up stories about the characters he met during his long days. These characters and stories swirl around Charles throughout the book, like ghosts and spirits that haunt him, as he makes his way home. 

At the age of 10, he longed to study and read like the boys in school, but his mother made him work to support the family. He visited the family in prison on Sundays and worked the other days to pay off his father's debts.

The endpapers are a visual nod to the different worlds he inhabited as a poor working child and one of the most influential writers of all time.

Time to brush up on your Charles Dickens before next year. In 2012, the publishing world will commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth, so prepare yourself for Dickens-palooza. Have you got a favorite Dicken's book or a favorite character? I'd love to hear about it.


Carlee L. said...

Can you have wallpaper made from the endpaper with the books on it? I'd like a wall or two covered in that. :-)

blewis said...

My favorite and most loved character is, And shall remain truly, The indefatigable optimist, Wilkins Micawber.

matt kirkland said...

Blewis, that's because you haven't met Inspector Bucket yet!

John Hendrix said...

Is there anyone who is more fun to hate than Mr. Murdstone?

Louise Smythe said...

This is great! I love Dickens - I'll be sure to order a copy. Congratulations, John!

Lauren Castillo said...

Gorgeous work, John! Wonderful combination of graphite, watercolor and ink. Congratulations!!

Bb said...

Beautiful work John! Makes me want to buy the book.
Bb (a friend of the Irwin's)