Year 4 receive an email “Street Child” author Berlie Doherty
As part of their History topic on the Victorians, Year 4 have been reading the book, Street Child by Berlie Doherty. It tells the story of Jim Jarvis, a real life street urchin who was helped by Dr Barnardo and who in turn showed Dr Barnardo the conditions many children were living in.
The boys were inspired by the book to write their own accounts and descriptions and even an imaginary letter to Queen Victoria, protesting about conditions.
We emailed Berlie Doherty some of the boys’ work and an explanation and she was kind enough to read their work and write back to us.
How lovely to hear from you all! I expect lessons have been very different since we all had to go into lockdown – haven’t your teachers been doing a marvellous job? I’m really pleased to hear from Ms Rogerson and Mrs Jones that you’ve been reading my book, Street Child, and that you’ve enjoyed it. That’s lovely for an author to know.
Some of you wanted to know how I came to know about Jim Jarvis. Well, one day I decided I would like to write a book for children about a very famous man who created orphanages for children who had nobody to look after them. You know what his name is, don’t you?
I went to the Barnardo headquarters in London to do some research, and although the librarian couldn’t let me see the archives, where all the precious historical documents are kept, he did let me see the pamphlets that Dr Barnardo had written about some of the destitute children in his care. The very first boy who had come to his notice was a child called Jim Jarvis. Very little is known about Jim, but in this small pamphlet which Barnardo sent out to rich people I read that Jim was an orphan (no mention of brothers or sisters) and had run away from a workhouse and been very badly treated by a coal bargee, and had lived on the streets till Barnardo found him. I decided not to write about Barnardo himself, but to make up a story about Jim, based on those few facts.
You wanted to know how long it took to write. The first draft took a term to write – I used to take a chapter a week down to the school that my children used to go to, long ago, and share it with a class. The children decided what each chapter would be called. After that time I did a lot more research and developed the story, so perhaps 9 months altogether.
I don’t know how I thought of Shrimps, but lots of people say he reminds them of a boy called Carrots, who died on the streets because Barnardo didn’t have room for him in the orphanage.
I liked your work very much. It’s beautifully written, and I think your vocabulary is excellent! You tell those stories really well.
The letter to the queen was really moving and persuasive.
I loved the description of Shrimps. I could really see him! It’s as good as a picture, and that’s what descriptive writing should be like!
The two diary pages of a day in the workhouse made me shiver with horror, they were so realistic. It really made me feel how awful it was for poor Jim.
Well done, all of you, and thank you for sharing your work with me.
Best wishes, and take care,