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Charles Dickens was born in England in 1812, about 200 years ago. He first earned a living as an assistant in a lawyer's office, then as a newspaper reporter. He was still a young man when he became famous for the funny essays he wrote from his own imagination. At first, no one knew who he was, though, because he used a pseudonym, "Boz."
His essays were so popular that Dickens quickly started publishing stories using his own name. Some of them, such as Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Christmas Carol, are still told in books and movies today.
(Leader: You may wish to pause and invite the group to name Dickens's stories they have read or have seen in a film.)
In London , in Dickens's day, many children did not have the chance to go to school. Some lived on the streets and worked or begged for pennies to buy food. Some were so poor they did not have clothes or shoes to wear to school, never mind money for paper, pens, ink or books. Charles Dickens, himself, knew about that sort of poverty. When he was a child, his family was not well off. One time, his father was put in jail because he owed someone money. That year, Charles was 12. He worked at a shoe polish factory instead of going to school.
When Charles Dickens was a father with children of his own, some people started a few special schools in London to educate poor children. Dickens gave some of his money to support these Ragged Schools. He used to say the poorest children needed a chance to be clean, too, and the schools should provide warm water for them to wash and take baths.
By writing stories and sometimes charging money to tell his stories aloud, Dickens earned plenty of money. He shared his earnings to help provide food, housing, education and hospitals for people who could not afford them. He also believed that people who read his stories might discover more about the needs of others. They might be inspired to help others and work to change society for the better.
By 1865, Charles Dickens had written more novels, including David Copperfield, which told some of the story of his own life. Then, Charles Dickens, his friend Ellen Ternan and Ellen's mother were all hurt in a big train accident. He helped some of the passengers escape from the wreckage. He lived only five more years—to the day—after that.
Dickens was not the only person of his time who cared about children or the poor. But he played a special role. His popular books influenced politicians, the wealthy and all readers who had the means and the care to help. He helped make the world a better place and his stories still teach us today.