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Activity 1: Meet Oliver Twist

Activity time: 10 minutes

Materials for Activity

  • A copy, preferably illustrated, of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Optional: Additional books by Charles Dickens, such as A Christmas Carol
  • Optional: A DVD or videotape of the musical, Oliver! or another film based on a story by Charles Dickens, and appropriate equipment

Preparation for Activity

  • Familiarize yourself with the plot and themes of Oliver Twist. You may decide to read aloud a brief excerpt to the group; however, it is recommended that you convey the flavor and topics of his writing by description instead. Dickens' language and subtle irony may be difficult for children this age to apprehend, especially out of the context of the entire story.
  • You may like to present Dickens's voice by reading aloud his tale, A Christmas Carol. Find a version in your local library.
  • Optional: If you have the time and the appropriate equipment, show the group a short excerpt from one of the many films based on Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol. The song, "Food, Glorious Food!" from Oliver! or a clip from the Walt Disney story of Scrooge McDuck may work. View the film in advance to choose one or two short clips that demonstrate Dickens's focus on the gap between "haves" and "have nots," and his awareness of the humanity that all people share. See film suggestions in Resources, Find Out More.

Description of Activity

Share one or more of Dickens' stories about children who were "have-nots" in 19th-century Britain by describing the story, reading an excerpt aloud, showing a video clip or any combination.

Introduce the phrase "haves and have-nots," which dates from Dickens' time. "Have-nots" are individuals who lack money, wealth and other material resources-as contrasted with "haves."

Process the scenes or stories, using these questions:

  • How does Charles Dickens portray the lives of people who are disadvantaged? Does it seem he might have lived in these conditions, himself? How else would he know so much about being poor?
  • What are some details that show some people have more money than others? How does Charles Dickens show who are "haves" and who are "have-nots?"
  • Where do we see inequities like these in our society? If Dickens were writing a story about today, what do you think he would write about?

Point out that Dickens' time and place was noted for its extremes of wealth and poverty. The people we think of as middle class, somewhere between haves and have-nots, were a much smaller part of 19th-century British society, quite different from the way middle class people-the have-somes?-are the majority in the U.S. today.

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