What better way to engage upper key stage 2 children in the lives of Victorian street children than to follow the dramatic adventures of Jim Jarvis? Children very quickly empathise with all of the hardships that Jim and his family face at the start of the book. More importantly, they learn to care about his plight and those of the other characters- helpless Tip in the Workhouse and Shrimps living out on the street, who face the same struggle to survive. Seeing the situations Jim finds himself in through his own eyes and his own speech really captures children and brings a reality that history textbooks may not. The trail of events which bring him finally to the hint of safety evokes very strong emotional responses from the children. Berlie Doherty makes Jim’s courage and fear both tangible through excellent vocabulary and sentence structure choices. Throughout the story there are excellent passages which lend themselves to analysis and modelled or structured writing in response. A strategy such as DADWAVERS would work brilliantly in response to Jim’s escape from the Workhouse. This identification with the character of Jim lends itself to lots of drama and on from that to excellent first person and third person writing. Examples would include role play freeze frames, dialogue and play scripts; informal letters between characters, diaries written by Jim, Tip and other characters. Street Child is so rewarding to read aloud to a class. They are hooked by the reality of life for Jim- the fact that it is based on the true story of a child saved by Dr Barnardo just adds to the poignancy- and opens up another whole level of research and non-chronological writing if you wish.
By Ruth Berry