We’ve witnessed a bevy of books relating to the awesome Victorian author Charles Dickens, as the bicentennial of his birth approaches February 7. Some of the best of the recent Dickens-related children’s books include Deedy’s charming The Cheshire Cheese Cat (see my prior post), Deborah Hopkinson’s dramatic picture-book biography, A Boy Called Dickens; and Andrea Warren’s insightful Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London, which places the author’s fictional references to the poor in historical context (recommended for ages 10 and older).
This month seems like the perfect time to revisit Barbara McClintock‘s lovely, wintry picture book based on a little-known 1868 Dickens story. Molly and the Magic Wishbone, winner of a 2001 Parents Choice Award, is one of those endearing books that children, especially cat-lovers, cherish — if they have the chance to hear or read it. (Even though Molly‘s already out of print, you can find a copy either at your library or through a source such as Alibris.)
With fantastic, atmospheric details, McClintock paints the lively streets of a nineteenth-century London populated by an assortment of expressive birds, foxes, mice and other creatures, dressed in top hats, long gowns, and bonnets. Molly, a gray-and-white cat, is the wise sister and heroine of the story. With Mama ill, she sets out for the market to procure dinner. While carrying her basket of fish home, Molly meets a kind, elderly fairy godmother who tells her she will find a magic wishbone that will grant her one wish.
“Sure enough, that night, right after all the fish was eaten, one thin white bone was left on Molly’s plate./ It must be true!” What will she wish for? While the younger siblings hatch visions of candy, toys, and such, Molly exercises patience and common sense. Just as she entertains wishing for a wardrobe of elegant dresses, little sis Phylis comes up missing. The impish kitten has sneaked out to seek a wishbone of her own and has become lost in the snowy streets. Molly realizes this is the time to put her magic to use.
I feel quite sure Dickens himself would embrace McClintock’s Molly and the Magic Wishbone, with its handsome illustrations and cozy, reassuring conclusion. Like her other children’s books, it both reflects and responds to the emotional needs of children (in this case, of ages 5 to 8).
Here are other McClintock books that are great to read aloud:
“What the Dickens?! For Kids!” from Riverfront Times.