Nancy Churnin will be presenting on her book Dr. Mr. Dickens
SPECIAL PROGRAM FOR YOUNG FAMILIES AND CHILDREN
Nancy Churnin writes about inspiring people that encourage kids to heal the world. Dear Mr. Dickens, the true story of a woman who spoke up to Charles Dickens, won the 2021 National Jewish Book Award; A Queen to the Rescue, about Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, who saved 11,000 children from the Holocaust, won a 2022 Sydney Taylor Notable.
Readers today are well aware of age-old controversies surrounding insensitive portrayals of racial or ethnic groups in books. In Dear Mr. Dickens, Nancy Churnin and Bethany Stancliffe tell the story of one Jewish reader, Eliza Davis, who was a fan of novelist Charles Dickens but not of his antisemitic caricature in Oliver Twist. Davis felt that the character of Fagin represented a dangerously misleading portrayal of her people, so she wrote to Dickens in hopes of a response. The small drama of this interaction between a famous author and a woman seeking change makes for an inspiring story.
Many children might not be familiar with Dickens, but Churnin introduces the basic facts of his career with sensitivity and accuracy. He is “the most famous writer of Eliza’s time,” and readers eagerly await installments of his stories in popular magazines. Selective facts about the era and about Dickens’ work, including his commitment to exposing social evils, set the stage for Eliza’s decision. The implicit hypocrisy of the novelist’s compassion for Oliver Twist, a poor orphan, angers Davis; young readers will easily understand the idea that adults may fail to live up to their own ideals. Churnin carefully explains the difference between a character and a stereotype through Davis’s reasoning. Fagin is repeatedly identified as “the Jew,”suggesting that his horrible traits are endemic to the Jewish people.