Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 16, 2021

Book Giveaway: DEAR MR. DICKENS by Nancy Churnin

Nancy Churnin’s picture book DEAR MR. DICKENS, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe and published by Albert Whitman & Co is coming out on October 1st.

 Nancy has agreed to share a book with one lucky winner in the U.S. mailing territory. All you have to do to get in the running is to leave a comment. Reblog, tweet, or talk about it on Facebook with a link and you will get additional chances to win. Just let me know the other things you do to share the good news, so I can put in the right amount of tickets in my basket for you.

Sharing on Facebook, Twitter, reblogging really helps spread the word for a new book. Thanks for helping Nancy and Bethany.

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In Eliza Davis’s day, Charles Dickens was the most celebrated living writer in England. But some of his books reflected a prejudice that was all too common at the time: prejudice against Jewish people. Eliza was Jewish, and her heart hurt to see a Jewish character in Oliver Twist portrayed as ugly and selfish. She wanted to speak out about how unfair that was, even if it meant speaking out against the great man himself. So she wrote a letter to Charles Dickens. What happened next is history.

BOOK JOURNEY:

Part time travel, part wishful thinking, and lots and lots of detective work. That’s how I describe my book journey with Dear Mr. Dickens.

Let’s start with the time travel.

I have loved Charles Dickens for as long as I can remember. Yes, I was that strange little kid that used to lug around enormous volumes of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield and read and reread Little Dorrit and A Christmas Carol. I found it thrilling that my other favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, paid homage to Dickens by having the March sisters act parts in The Pickwick Papers in Little Women.

But as a Jewish child, I was always disturbed by the way Dickens referred to Fagin, an ugly character who pushed kids into stealing for him, as “the Jew” in Oliver Twist. I wished I could go back in time and write to Dickens to ask him why he did that and to tell him how hurtful and unfair that was.

So the time travel part didn’t happen – not exactly. But I was filled with wishful thinking about it.

My mother, a teacher, who never refused me books, was perplexed by my obsession with Dickens. He had such a large heart for kids, for the vulnerable, for those in need, I told her. But she didn’t understand how someone with such a large heart could be so unfeeling to Jewish people. And I didn’t have an answer for that.

When I found my calling as a children’s book author, I spent a lot of time in the library doing research. I was in my local Plano Public Library in Plano, Texas one day when my mind drifted as it did to Charles Dickens. I had no intention of writing a picture book about Charles Dickens because really, what more did I have to say about him than had already been said? Besides, I couldn’t bring myself to write about someone who had been so unkind, so unfeeling, so hurtful…

And then I found a couple of sentences in an article about him that I’d never seen before. Sentences about Eliza Davis, a Jewish woman who had written to Dickens, challenging him about his portrayal of Fagin as an ugly Jewish stereotype, and asking him to do better. After initial resistance, Dickens came around to her point. Because of Eliza, he created the kindly Jewish character of Mr. Riah in Our Mutual Friend.

I was stunned.

The letter I wished I could have written to Charles Dickens HAD been written – by Eliza Davis!

It’s been said that you must find a point of connection with your main character to bring them to life. I couldn’t have identified with Eliza more! She had done exactly what I had dreamed of doing since I was a child. It couldn’t have been more perfect than if I had been able to go back in time and send that letter myself. Sometimes, as I worked on the book, I confess I fantasized I had gone back in time to be her.

On a personal note: my mother remembers our disagreements about Dickens enough to have found this book, which focuses on speaking up, changing for the better and then, ultimately, forgiveness, healing and compelling. In fact, ever since I was able to get her an uncorrected proof of the book, she has read it daily. But she has been struggling with her memory in this past year and sometimes she thinks I am the one who has written to Charles Dickens. And sometimes she asks me if he has responded to my letter – that she can’t wait to read what he has to say.

But Eliza Davis is the one who wrote the letter. And to find out more about her and what she and Charles Dickens were thinking during this exchange, the detective part of the journey began. The article I read had snippets of quotes from the letters. I needed to find the full correspondence. Where would I find it?

I am very grateful to my local hero librarian for helping me with my search. There were copies of the letters at a museum in London. But it would be difficult to fly there and make reservations to go to the sitting room of the museum to read them all.Then my librarian found two out-of-print books in the United States that included the full correspondence: Charles Dickens and His Jewish Characters, edited by Cumberland Clark (Chiswick Press, 1918). And one of those places – incredibly – turned out to be at the University of North Texas, less than an hour from where I lived.

I called the University of North Texas librarian and found that the book couldn’t be checked out as it was in the rare book collection. He gave me contact information for Professor J. Don Vann, who had found the book on his regular trips to England and donated it to the library. I emailed Professor Vann, a formidable Dickens scholar. And he opened the door that made the book possible. At his request, the librarian at the university sent me copies of every page in the entire book. When I had a rough manuscript about this woman who had the courage to challenge the great Charles Dickens, Professor Vann and his lovely wife, Dolores, who passed on this year, invited me for a long tea at their home where we discussed the book and all things Dickens.

Professor Vann invited me to present what I had learned at a meeting of the Dickens Society in Denton, Texas. He also introduced me to two other Dickens scholars: Professor Murray Baumgarten, Distinguished Emeritus Professor at UC Santa Cruz, and Founding Director of The Dickens Project; and Professor David Paroissien, Professorial Research Fellow, the University of Buckingham, UK, Emeritus Professor of English, UMass Amherst, and retired longtime editor of Dickens Quarterly, the official scholarly publication of the Dickens Society.

My three Professors, or Three Wise Men as I like to think of them, made sure that I stayed within the facts of this story that was little known outside the realm of Dickens scholars in addition to making sure I had everything correct, from the length and width of Dickens’ magazines to what he charged for them at newsstands.

They even checked over Bethany Stancliffe’s glorious illustrations. And while they had notes for me along the way, they never did have notes for Bethany. They loved from the start how exquisitely she captured the emotions of Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens and how Bethany brought the look of Victorian life to vivid and vibrant life.

Up until Dear Mr. Dickens, I had been writing picture book biographies. Now, for the first time I was writing something new – a true story about an interaction that changed Dickens and through Dickens contributed to changing the attitude and the laws regarding the Jewish community who, up until then, had faced segregation and discrimination in England.

But while the format was different, the book itself felt natural – almost as if it was writing itself. This, after all, was the book I had wanted to write from the time I was a child back when I wished I could have gone back in time to write a letter to Charles Dickens and ask him to do better. It took a lot of detective work, but it was exhilarating to discover that Eliza Davis had done what I had dreamed about, that I could write her story and how she had changed his heart and inspire kids to speak up when they see injustice, too.

To encourage children to speak up, I created a project on my website called DEAR… where kids can share letters they write to people in positions of influence, asking them to right a wrong. You can find it here: https://www.nancychurnin.com/dear

I am also happy to share that The Charles Dickens Museum in London, which is housed in a home where Dickens himself lived and worked on Oliver Twist, has embraced this book and will be hosting me in educational presentations for students in London. The book shows that Dickens was even bigger-hearted than many realized. And it has been completely vetted by respected Dickens scholars, including Professor Paroissien, who is a friend of the museum.

You can find the book on their website here: https://dickensmuseum.com/blogs/overseas/virtual-explorer-tour-with-dear-mr-dickens

So was there a bit of time travel? Well, maybe only in my mind – but don’t all historical books give us an opportunity to travel in time? It has been a wish that came true, that reminds me that people can be braver than we might have imagined, as Eliza was, and truly good at heart, as Charles Dickens was when he resolved to do better by Eliza and the Jewish community.

The book I hope will also leave kids with another message. Not only is it important to speak up even to those we admire, but we also need to forgive. After Charles Dickens created the kindly Mr. Riah in Our Mutual Friend, Eliza thanked him with a Bible in which she praised him for having “the noblest quality man can possess,” the ability to atone, or make amends for a wrong.

Part of growing up includes learning from our mistakes. I hope that Dear Mr. Dickens will remind kids of all ages that while we must always speak up against what is wrong, as Eliza did, we must remember, too, that all of us make mistakes as Charles Dickens did. It is a sign of strength to acknowledge those mistakes and do better. It shows greatness of heart to forgive others and ourselves when amends are made.

NANCY’S BIO:

Nancy is an author of ten\ books. She is a native New Yorker and a graduate of Harvard University, with a master’s from Columbia University. She loves hanging out with friends and fellow children’s book authors as a member of the Ink Think Tank, the Nonfiction Ninjas on Nonfiction-Ninjas.com, the Nonfiction Chicks organizing the annual nffest.com and the Book Meshuggenahs, organizing annual Chai-ku and Be a Shamash contests.

Nancy is proud to be a Writing Barn instructor, a member of the Texas Library Association, 12X12 and Rate Your Story, and the PALS coordinator for the North Texas chapter of SCBWI. She enjoys virtual and in person Author Visits. Book her through Authors and More, or on her Contact Page.

She is represented by Karen Grencik at Red Fox Literary

Nancy Churnin is the author of THE WILLIAM HOY STORY, HOW A DEAF BASEBALL PLAYER CHANGED THE GAME (Albert Whitman), on the 2016 New York Public Library Best Books for Kids and Bank Street College Best Children’s Books list, the 2017 Texas Library Association’s 2X2 and Topaz lists, 2017-2018 Kennebec Valley Book Award Books, the 2018 Illinois School Library Media Association’s Monarch Award Master List, Connecticut’s 2018 Charter Oak Children’s Book Awards list, the 2018-2019 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice awards and the 2017-2018 Armadillo Readers’ Choice Awards list.

MANJHI MOVES A MOUNTAIN, on the 2021 Sakura Medal shortlist, 2020 Greenwich Reads Together Elementary School Selection, winner of the 2019 Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award and 2018 South Asia Book Award, a 2018 Children and Teen’s Choice Book Awards finalist, a 2017 Junior Library Guild selection, a Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a Silver Eureka Award-winner, a Little Free Libraries/Children’s Book Council Pick for the Action Book Club and Ezra Jack Keats Award finalist and on the Wisconsin School Library Association’s Picture This list.

CHARLIE TAKES HIS SHOT: HOW CHARLIE SIFFORD BROKE THE COLOR BARRIER IN GOLF is a Silver Eureka Award-winner, on the Wisconsin School Library Association’s Picture This list and a Ruby Bridges Reading Festival selection at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, featured at International Literacy Association’s Children Literacy Day in Austin.

IRVING BERLIN, THE IMMIGRANT BOY WHO MADE AMERICA SING is a 2019 Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable Book and 2019 Social Studies Notable Trade Book for Children. It was featured in the 2018 GREAT BOOKS FOR KIDS by Elizabeth Bird and the Evanston Public Library, in the 31 DAYS, 31 LISTS: 2018 UNIQUE BIOGRAPHIES by Elizabeth Bird and School Library Journal, in the 31 DAYS, 31 LISTS: 2018 NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS by Elizabeth Bird and School Library Journal; THE BEST JEWISH CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF 2018 by Marjorie Ingall and Tablet Magazine; the 7 BEST JEWISH BOOKS FOR KIDS by The Children’s Book Review and RONNIE’S AWESOME LIST OF BOOKS that teach about social justice and activism.

THE QUEEN AND THE FIRST CHRISTMAS TREE was picked for A MIGHTY GIRL’s 2018 list.

MARTIN & ANNE, THE KINDRED SPIRITS OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. AND ANNE FRANK, a 2020 Books for a Global Society Notable from the International Literacy Association; on the 2020 New York City Department of Education Civics for All list; a 2020 Wisconsin State Reading Association Picture This! pick; a 2020 Wassmuth Center for Human Rights pick; selected for the 2020 Social Justice and Children’s Literature list of The Pirate Tree, a collective of children’s and young adult writers interested in children’s literature and social justice issues; presented at the NYC School Librarians annual conference in NYC and the Museum of Tolerance in LA; on the 2020 PJ Library’s Jewish Books to Read in Honor of MLK Jr. Day; a 2019 March Book Buzz pick for the eMissourian, Children’s Book Council’s Hot Off the Press list and Ruby Bridges Reading Festival selection; 2019 featured book at Tulisoma South Dallas Book Fair at African American Museum in Fair Park, Dallas; a 2019 pick for the Brave Bookshelf, a list of books that build moral courage in children, by ParentMap; a Civil Rights and Race reading list selection by the Jewish Book Council.

BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF BROWN, THE ART OF LAURA WHEELER WARING, released Feb. 4, 2020, a Silver Eureka honoree from The California Reading Association, A Mighty Girl pick on the Mighty Girl 2020 Summer Reading List, a Civic Nebraska selection.

On April 1, 2020: FOR SPACIOUS SKIES, KATHERINE LEE BATES AND THE INSPIRATION FOR ‘AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL’ A Mighty Girl pick on the Mighty Girl 2020 Summer Reading List.

In October 1, 2021: DEAR MR DICKENS, illustrated by Bethany Stancliffe, published by Albert Whitman

In October 5, 2021: A QUEEN TO THE RESCUE, THE STORY OF HENRIETTA SZOLD, illustrated by Yevgenia Nayberg, published by Creston Books/Lerner Books

She lives in North Texas with her husband, a dog named Dog and two cantankerous cats.

Website: https://www.nancychurnin.com/

Dear Mr Dickens: https://www.nancychurnin.com/dearmrdickens

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NancyChurninBooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nancy.churnin/

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/nchurnin

On Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nchurnin/

BETHANY STANCLIFFE’S BIO: 

Bethany Stancliffe grew up in the Rockies and studied art and illustration at Brigham Young University-Idaho. When she’s not painting, she enjoys exploring outside with her son, Max, and creating original stories with her husband.

Nancy thank you for sharing your book and journey with us.


Responses

  1. Great interview, ladies! I had seen news ahead of the book’s release but didn’t know what it was about. Can’t wait to read it.

    Like

  2. Another winner, Nancy! Congratulations!!

    Like

  3. What an amazing journey you’ve been on, working on this story, Nancy. Thanks for sharing. And so happy for you that your mom was able to read it.

    Like

  4. Congrats, Nancy! What a cool story. (I RTed and I’m signed up for the emails.)

    Like

  5. FANtastic, Nancy! What an amazing story. Yours and Eliza’s. You do have a remarkable way of finding inspiring people and portraying the phenomenal things they have accomplished. And Brava! Bethany Stancliffe, for bringing this one to life. Be well all ❤

    Like

  6. I can’t wait to read this book, Nancy! I love learning about your researching journey. It’s fascinating and so are your characters. And the illustrations are wonderful. Congratulations, Nancy and Bethany!

    I am a subscriber to this blog and I’m sharing this post on my writer’s Face Book page-Pamela Culshaw Harrison.

    Like

  7. This looks wonderful. No need to add my name; I just requested a copy from the publisher!

    Like

  8. What a fabulous story. I loved learning about Nancy’s inspiring and serendipitous journey to writing this book, too. Can’t wait to read!

    Like

  9. Terrific story. I had no idea that Dickens was influenced in this way. Thanks for the chance to win a copy.
    I’ve tweeted: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/1438602110879207438, and shared: https://www.pinterest.com.mx/pin/336573772160415915/.
    I also follow daily by email: crs(at)codedivasites(dot)com
    Thanks again, have a super day!!

    Like

  10. Fascinating story behind the story! Kudos for all of the research and for writing this important picture book.

    Like

  11. What an amazing story Nancy,! I would love a copy of this book. I tweeted, posted on FB, and will reblog it tomorrow.

    Like

  12. Wow. This sure shows how deep research can pay off. What a fascinating interview and the book looks great! I subscribe to your blog by email and I shared on Twitter. https://twitter.com/rosihollinbeck/status/1438624197731749894

    Like

  13. Reblogged this on Writer Side UP! and commented:
    Writer Side UP! friends, I have never re-blogged a post on this blog because I’ve never mentally established the boundaries as to what content would or wouldn’t fit or “be fair” in that way. That said after reading this, I couldn’t help myself. I am blown away by everything about this picture book, from the premise on through the book journey to the extremely poignant and important messages which, in my opinion, are just as meaningful for adults as children. I hope you find this as enjoyable and moving as I have 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • EXACTLY Donna! WORD! You summed it up 100%. Since you are the writer, I will just say “What she said!” I reblogged this, commented and am RT. Please enter me in this drawing. This book is just what I need. Congratulations to all involved!

      Like

  14. Nancy, I don’t know if I can find sufficient words here. First, I have NEVER re-blogged any post from anywhere on my blog, but this time I did–happily! In my eyes, everything about this book journey is a lesson/message as much as the book itself. This is a testament to so many things! The value of reading–and research and where that can lead. That it led you from those “sentence” seeds to Dickens scholars and eventually The Charles Dickens Museum in London is astounding. It feels like it was touched by angels 🙂 But I think what I love the most about this, for you, is that this author you loved so much, whose legacy was tainted, you having been hurt through his words, turned out to be the man he always was, having been ignorant or insensitive about his portrayal. He and Eliza are now role models, emblazoned in your beautiful book. I can’t wait to get my hands on it, whether I win it or purchase. Thank you for sharing this, and Congratulations on ALL of it 😀

    Like

    • And, Kathy, along with re-blogging, I shared on Twitter and Facebook 🙂

      Like

  15. Congrats on getting this book out there, Nancy! So encouraging to see how people can change.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What an amazing book journey, Nancy. I am excited about all the opportunities ahead as you share this beautiful story.
    (blog follower)

    Like

  17. I’ll have to get this one for my grand-daughter! Love the backstory!

    Like

  18. Excited to read this new book by Nancy!

    Like

  19. This book looks wonderful and I found Nancy’s research fascinating. What a thrill it must have been to come across Eliza’s letter to Dickens. Thanks so much for the opportunity to win a copy of this beautiful book. I retweeted, too!

    Like

  20. Reblogged this on Darlene Beck-Jacobson and commented:
    Head on over to Kathy Temean’s blog for a chance to win a copy of this fascinating book by author Nancy Churnin.

    Like

  21. What a fabulous book — can wait to get my hands on a copy! (Newsletter Subscriber)

    Like

  22. OMG. What an incredible story and work to put this book together. I love Charles Dickens, too. Another unknown facet of his life discovered. Can’t wait to read this book. Thank you for sharing this. Will post of FB and Twitter.

    Like

  23. I can’t wait to add this book to my “Nancy Churnin” collection! Nancy finds people we should all know, but don’t…at least until we read her books. I know this is another winner! I am sharing this, and I am a subscriber.

    Like

  24. This is an amazing story! Congratulations

    Like

  25. I love the idea of this book. Congratulations!

    Like

  26. Dickens and I share a birthdate. This is a wonderful historical find and message!

    Like

  27. I was happy to post this column on my personal FaceBook page because I’m sure a lot of people will want to read it

    Like


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