________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2000

cover Mr. Dickens Hits Town.

Jan Mark. Illustrated by Regolo Ricci.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 1999.
62 pp., cloth, $19.99.
ISBN 0-88776-468-1.

Subject Headings:
Dickens, Charles, 1812-1870-Juvenile fiction.
Montréal (Québec)-Fiction.

Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
Review by Jo-Anne Mary Benson.

** /4


In l842 the great English novelist Charles Dickens made his famous tour of America. His visit to Montreal, on the way home, is less famous.

Invited to look in on the Garrison Players by the Earl of Mulgrave, a stagestruck young officer, the equally stagestruck Dickens planned the program and took the leading roles, acting as director and stage manager at the same time.

It must have been a memorable experience for all concerned. This is what might have happened. Quite a lot of it is true.

image Jan Mark is an award-winning writer with over forty-five books to her credit. In Mr. Dickens Comes to Town, she attempts to blend historical fact with an element of artistic license to create a work of fiction that will appeal to young readers. Though the concept of presenting Dickens' little publicized visit to Montreal in fiction form is of merit, Mark's choice of delivery has an element of confusion that detracts considerably from the story line.

At the very beginning of the book, readers are is introduced to a "Cast of Characters" consisting of "real people" and "people who might have been." This phraseology no doubt is meant to be clever but, on first reading, is quite puzzling. Also, having been referred to a cast of characters, readers would assume they are about to encounter a play. However, this is not the case as the book is written in novel form. Similarly, each chapter-like break is introduced in the following manner, again and again, leaving the reader somewhat bewildered:

In which Dorothy Perry visits the neighbors and Lieutenant Lincoln brings exciting news:

In which Mr. Dickens turns out to be a man of many talents. Not everyone appreciates them:

In which Mr. Dickens borrows a few items of furniture:

If one can ignore the above distractions, Jan Mark delivers a readable story that captures the pros and cons of a visiting celebrity. She has the story evolve from the excitement and anticipation of Dickens' arrival to a time when people are tolerating Dickens' overbearing manner while consoling his homesick wife as he becomes totally immersed in the play.

The artwork of Regolo Ricci is particularly engaging. Ricci, a self-taught artist, has chosen deep rich colours and uses a high degree of contrast in each of his illustrations. Each scene beautifully captures the time period of the early l800's in all areas from the decor and costumes to the furniture and activities. The facial features are particularly expressive and greatly add to the characters being portrayed.

As the book is directed to the nine and older age group, many may experience an element of confusion if reading the book independently. With this in mind, Mr. Dickens Hits Town may hold appeal or be better suited to a school or library "storytime" setting where the topics of fact vs. fiction, Dickens' works, the time period, and the artwork may provide the basis for interesting discussion.

Recommended with Reservations.

Jo-Anne Mary Benson, of Osgoode, ON, is a writer/reviewer for North American magazines, newspapers, and journals.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364