122. Street Child by Berlie Doherty

Street Child by Berlie Doherty (Canada) - (USA)
Essential Modern Classics

Pages: 208 pages
Ages: 8+
Finished: July 1, 2010
First Published: 1993 (ESM Edition, 2009)
Publisher: Harper Collins UK
Genre: children, historical fiction
Rating: 4/5

First sentences:

Jim Jarvis. Want to know who that is? It's me! That's my name. Only thing I've got, is my name.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Harper Collins Canada.

Reason for Reading: This book is published under the Essential Modern Classics list. This is a list of books chosen by the publisher's UK house and is a collection of outstanding books for children. From looking at the titles I'd say the age range varies anywhere from 8 to 15. I think the authors chosen present a unique collection for North American readers to discover. I intend to be keeping up-to-date with ESM as well as digging into their backlist.

As part of the Essential Modern Classics series the book starts with an informative paragraph bio. of the author followed by an essay entitled "Why You'll Love This Book" written by a famous author, in this case Julia Golding. Then a quick blurb on just who is Julia Golding. This publisher's series also sometimes end with extra material at the back of the book called "More Than A Story". Here we have some very interesting pertinent information which really adds to the satisfaction of having read the book. First is a generous Author's Note describing the true story behind the characters who really once existed, then a section on sad but true information about Victorian Work Houses, then another section with bulleted information on the history of Barnardo's Homes for Boys and eventually girls. Finally rounding off with a Q&A with the author about the book which is very enjoyable.

This book is based on the true story of an orphan, Jim Jarvis, about seven years old, who Dr. Barnardo credits with giving him the emotional push to start his homes for street boys. Only a basic outline of the real Jim Jarvis's life is known and the author has fleshed that out into a sad hard knocks life that eventually ends on as good a note as could be expected. Jim is orphaned in the work house where he spends a year until he escapes and then he finds a bit of happiness living in a shack on the waterfront helping a girl sell eels and shells, and making friends with other street boys, until her Grandfather finds Jim in his worthless shack and sells him to a coal worker where he is abused and worked like a slave. A few years go by and Jim wonders if he'll ever be free, since the one time he tried to escape has resulted in him being tied to the boat like a dog.

An engaging story with many heart-breaking scenes and some that are poignant and heart warming. Though Barnardo enters the story at the end, this is very much Jim's story. A story of what life was like for a street kid in the Victorian era. The extreme poverty, the looming threat of the work house if the police caught you, the inevitability of having to steal or starve and sleeping on rooftops to keep safe from the law. The book is very much full of hardships but Jim is a determined boy with a will to fight to stay alive and avoid returning to the work house. Though his spirit may have been almost extinguished a few times he always manages to gather heart and keep resilient. This is a dark book, there is death and abuse and a sadness permeating its pages. But the writing and content is age appropriate. Jim's small victories and little bouts of happiness stand out in shining contrast to the world he lives in. The ending is heart-wrenching in a good way and leaves readers with a sense of good will and happiness that may make some kids interested in finding out more about Barnardo and his work.


  1. This sounds like an amazing book! Might be too hard for my daughter who is sensitive but I think it will make a great read for my son.


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