Street Child (extract)

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By Berlie Doherty

Originally published 1 January 2009

Berlie Doherty’s novel Street Child is based on the true story of the orphan who inspired Dr Barnardo to set up his children’s refuge. The novel raises issues of poverty and child labour, and discusses themes like cruelty, injustice, resilience and humanity.


This activity focuses on chapter four, ‘The Workhouse’. This activity can linked to the activity Street Child, the play, which looks at the play adaptation of the story and compares it to the novel.

Before reading

  • What do the children know about life for poor children in Victorian Britain? Have they read or seen a film version of Oliver Twist? Clarify what a workhouse was and explain how children might have ended up in one.

During reading

  • Read the first few paragraphs. How does the author convey Jim and his mother’s struggle? Which phrases emphasise this? Is his mother really just asleep? Predict her fate.
  • Stress the use of dialogue by asking individuals to role play different characters. Contrast Jim’s mother’s emotional last words with the use of short direct questions and orders by the adults around Jim.
  • Pause to list additional scene-setting information – eg, ‘it was growing dark’, ‘the snowy road’.
  • Notice how the descriptions and pace alter from noise, voices and movement before Jim enters the workhouse, to silent images and slow actions once inside. Provide headings: Sights; Sounds; Actions; Feelings; and find descriptions for each aspect.
  • Look at the use of similes in the description of the man and woman by the steps. Find other examples.
  • Find adjectives that emphasise the gloomy atmosphere of the workhouse.
  • Establish the meaning of unfamiliar vocabulary – eg, infirmary, broth, shawl.
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This item has 4 stars of a maximum 5

Rated 4/5 from 105 ratings

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  1. Izzy
    on 18 June 2019

    Street Child

    I really enjoyed the book. I loved the tension and amazing adventure. I hated it when shrimps died but the book was very worth reading and I highly recommend people read it! :)

    5out of 5
  2. emily
    on 10 January 2019

    street child

    It was amazing , the best book I've ever read .or was it "my mum Tracy beaker!"

  3. Izzy
    on 6 December 2016

    Street child

    It was an amzing book to be reading

  4. Richard Gill
    on 25 September 2016


    I work in class E2 in a Christian school in Cleveon near Bristol and we did homework, guided reading and other activities related to it as we were studding victorians
    Great 👍 book 😊
    By Richard Gill (tall man !)

    5out of 5
  5. Kayleigh
    on 7 March 2016

    Wonderful book

    It give information to me at school. It is a wonderful book and i enjoyed reading it.

  6. sophie
    on 23 January 2016

    the street child

    the best in the world;)

    5out of 5
  7. chelsea
    on 16 December 2015

    street chid

    ths is the best biook ever

  8. ayden
    on 3 December 2015


    this book was very good!

    3out of 5
  9. Sayf Khan
    on 8 November 2015

    Street child

    Q1.Why do the children call Mr.spink the stick man

    5out of 5
  10. mali
    on 23 September 2015

    street child

    I have read this book and I have to say that this is enthusiastic!!!

    5out of 5
  11. Timothy
    on 8 May 2015


    It is really cool.l would like to watch as many more videos as we can. Therefore that is my explanation to this book or story so far.........

  12. jayde
    on 16 March 2015

    street child

    very good book

    4out of 5
  13. Courtney
    on 6 February 2015

    Best book ever

    I have been reading it in class such a mind wondering story I feel so sorry for jim😰😰😰😰😰😰😰😰😰

    5out of 5
  14. shannon
    on 13 January 2015

    street child

    i love street child it is very sad but it is amazing

  15. Lore
    on 28 August 2014

    My thought of street child

    The book is amazing

    5out of 5
  16. ty adkins
    on 29 April 2014


    The book was amazing but sad ! I loved it I read it a year ago jim was a good character but shrimps was better and was a good skipper.

    5out of 5
  17. alex
    on 9 February 2014


    I love the street chiled explans every thing back in the victorion times I fell so sad for jim but I must not tell you eney more

  18. Rasnie
    on 9 November 2013

    My Amazment

    Love it when he gets found dont like
    mr spinke hes so mean

    5out of 5
  19. shreya
    on 18 October 2013

    best book!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    best book ever. read it PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. Aisha Ansar
    on 12 May 2013

    Street Child

    I have read this book in class and my teacher said I have to write a character analysis of Jim from street child !!

  21. Ria Shah
    on 7 March 2013

    Street Child

    I love this book, it has an AMAZING story line and leaves you with some questions at the end

  22. Mia
    on 27 January 2013

    Street child


  23. adam
    on 25 January 2013

    street child

    Thomas john Barnardo ('the doctor')
    Dr. Thomas John Barnardo was what we might now call an extraordinary 'social entrepreneur'. But who was he and what did he achieve? He was well known for his homes and training schemes, but what was his contribution to the development of youth work and social work practice?
    contents: introduction • thomas barnardo - life • barnardo and ragged schools •barnardo homes • child migration• 'boarding out' • dr barnardo and controversy • conclusion• further reading and references • links• how to cite this article
    Thomas John Barnardo (1845-1905) is a classically Victorian figure - evangelical, entrepreneurial and philanthropic. His crusade to 'rescue children from the streets' was one the best known social interventions in the last half of the nineteenth century. As Williams (1953: vii) has put it:
    In the short space of forty years, starting without patronage or influence of any kind, this man had raised the sum of three and a quarter million pounds sterling, established a network of Homes of various kinds such as never existed before for the reception, care and training of homeless, needy and afflicted children, and had rescued no fewer than sixty thousand destitute boys and girls.
    But who was Dr Barnardo, what did he achieve in his work with children and young people,, and what is his continuing significance?
    Thomas Barnardo - life
    Born in Dublin in 1845, the son of a furrier, Thomas John Barnardo's childhood is somewhat blurred. As Rose (1987: 17) reports, as his fame grew, 'so did the anecdotes and legends about him until they became folklore'. She continues, 'much of the early history of his life and of the homes he wrote himself, but where his father's family came from and how he spent his first years in London remains uncertain'. There are hints that his childhood was stormy and far from happy (ibid.: 20). His schooling included Sunday school, parish day school and St Patricks Cathedral Grammar School, Dublin. Thomas (Tom) appears to have had an independent spirit, reading radical writers like Rousseau and Tom Paine. He was seen as a troublemaker (becoming bored quickly with lessons) and was eloquent and argumentative. Tom Barnardo did not pass his public examinations and at the age of 16 was apprenticed to a wine merchant.
    Approaching his seventeenth birthday Thomas Barnardo experienced 'conversion' (on May 26, 1862). He became a strongly evangelical Christian 'impatient to convert others, urgent for action' (Rose 1987: 24). Barnardo began teaching Bible classes in a Dublin ragged school and became involved in home visiting. His mother and brothers were already members of the Plymouth Bretheren - which Barnardo also joined. He also became a member of the Dublin YMCA - and often gave talks there. His commitment to social work strengthened - and on hearing Hudson Taylor speaking in Dublin about the work of the Inland China Mission, Barnardo believed his future lay in such work. The Brethren provided him with a small allowance, and the plan was to first study medicine at the London Hospital (friends from Dublin YMCA gave him an introduction).
    Thomas Barnardo settled close to the hospital in east London (his first lodgings were at 30 Coburn Street, Stepney) in 1866 - although he does not appear to have begun his studies until 1867 (Wagner 1979). He appears to have thrown himself into missionary work in the East End visiting beerhouses, penny gaffs (little theatres), and homes - offering cheap Bibles and the word of Jesus. More than once he was attacked (suffering two broken ribs on one occasion). He also became involved in the Ernest Street ragged school (off Mile End Road) - and appears to have been a charismatic and engaging teacher. One of the stories associated with this period was of Barnardo's first encounters with the 'lays' around Petticoat Lane where children slept. Thomas Barnardo frequently talked about this night, when he was taken by Jim Jarvis, a local lad, after a ragged school to visit the area (see Williams 1953: 54-7 for an account). What Jarvis told Barnardo about his life and the experiences of the other children had a profound effect. One his first steps was to set up a ragged school (see below).
    Figure 1.--im Jarvis was a boy who lived in 19th Century London. Jim was an orphan and lived on the street. There were lots of destitute children then who were either orphaned or abandoned and had no place to One cold winter’s night Jim was huddled around the fire in tatty but conventional clothes. These were ready made and most likely third hand clothes. He wore long trousers and a checked shirt. Over the shirt he wore a waistcoat. He wore a pair of worn out boots. The boy’s face was pale but filled with dignity and intelligence. The warm fire was inviting. The boy wanted to stay in the warm room and sleep on the floor.
    Thomas gentle spoke to the boy and said ‘time you went home.’ to which the boy replied that he had no-where to live. Barnardo did not believe him. He thought Jim must have a mum and dad waiting at home for him. Jim said he did not have parents and that he lived nowhere. Barnardo was astounded to learn that Jim had no friends and had nowhere to live. He could not believe what the boy was telling him when he said he spent the nights sleeping in a hay cart. It was a bombshell Jim dropped when he told Barnardo that there were lots of children sleeping on the streets. Jim offered to show Barnardo where the children slept. talking to Barnardo and time past all too quickly. It was time to go home. Barnardo sent the children away. He thought they were going ‘home.’ The only boy left was Jim. The boy was dressed
    It was around midnight when he went with the boy. Jim took Barnardo to a market in Houndsditch. Jim and Barnardo climbed a high brick wall. The boy and man looked over the wall and saw 11 sleeping boys huddled together. They were aged from 9 to 14. Barnardo was horrified by what Jim had shown him. He knew he had to do something to help these children. First he helped Jim. He let Jim stay at his lodgings that first night. The next day Jim was found lodgings, which Barnardo paid for. Jim took him on other night searches and before long Barnardo had 15 children whom he had found homes for. Barnado had made a start.
    Jim showed Thomas the appalling life that street children led. Night after night Barnardo was shown the hiding places where very young children slept. Ten year old, Jim Jarvis taught Barnardo where to look to find the children. They slept in barrels, on rooftops, under market stalls and anywhere in fact were they could sleep safely, sheltered from the wind and rain. Thomas Barnardo had some soul searching to do. He wanted to be trained as a doctor and go out to China to be a missionary. Jim had shown him a very real social problem in London’s East End. Should he stay in London and help rescue other destitute boys and girls? He was the only one who could make that decision.
    Jim was like all the other ragged children. Street Child is based on the true story of Jim Jarvis, a young boy who is left to survive on his own on the harsh streets of Victorian London after his mother dies. He is taken in by the compassionate Dr Thomas Barnardo. The play tells a story of bereavement, compassion and a young boy’s attempt to survive in a cruel world.

    By Adam smith

  24. Holly Russell
    on 23 January 2013

    READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    this book is very appealing to children all around the world gets a bit boring but twords the end it gets very exciting

  25. scott pitt
    on 7 November 2012

    street child

    the book street child i recomand to children all around the world it is a book about a boy called jim who is a orphan that runs away from the workhouse to find his sisters emily and lizie so all read street child

  26. Asia Abdillahi
    on 1 November 2012


    I think it was amazing the saddest thing were when jims mother had died and when Jim friend shrimps had died too.

  27. Charlie
    on 22 October 2012

    Best book i have ever read

    Absoulutely amazing, fantastic, super and terriffic 11111100000/1

    5out of 5
  28. chloe
    on 8 October 2012


    this book is boring!

  29. tabitha
    on 23 September 2012

    street child

    street child is a very sad book but nice ending my very favourie charater is tip because he is very out going and talkitive

  30. clo xxx
    on 19 September 2012

    street child

    enjoyable,tragic book
    amazing story about a boy called Jim

  31. tafadso
    on 13 May 2012

    Street Child

    Street Child Is THe BeSt

  32. mina
    on 17 March 2012

    street child

    i have just fineshed reading it in class and it has so much description and with the speach my teacher makes acents wich mack the book so amazing and imaginative with the speach read it i rate it 10/10!!! :)

    5out of 5
  33. mark
    on 13 March 2012

    street child

    read street child as a class novel great book would advise you to read it :) !!!

  34. jim
    on 24 September 2011

    street child

    classe book!!!!!!!! well

  35. krysie
    on 6 July 2011

    good book

    Our teacher read it to us and i enjoyed it.
    I feel sorry for jim and shrimps. they went through some rough things

  36. Jasmine
    on 25 May 2011

    Street child

    I feel sorry for Jim and shrimps pluis tip because there having a hard time but i want to know what happens to Tip and Rosie Plus Emily and Lizze

  37. Anonymos
    on 23 May 2011

    This site

    I love the bbok street child and have read it over and over. Ireally meant something to me. the book hit home for me. However this site is not very good. I am doind a school project on Berlie Doherty and need a book extract. This site clearly said Berlie Doherty Street Child(extract). Therefore there should be and extract from the book. I apologize though if there is an extract that i did not see but i did find the title "extract" on this site and it was only a review.

    5out of 5
  38. bethany
    on 6 May 2011

    street child

    i read this book with my class its amazing our teacher mrs graver gave us literacy work all to do with street child i loved the book and love the sweeps boy by the same author. MY STORY AND MY ROYAL STORY BOOKS ROCK.

    5out of 5
  39. ketshia munira
    on 8 January 2011

    Street Child

    i love this video ebcause it makes me feel i should help the poor and not waste fiid when people out there are poor and hungry

  40. Amanda
    on 10 November 2010

    Street Child

    This book is brilliant! I could reccomend it to everyone I know!

    5out of 5
  41. alexander
    on 30 September 2010

    street child

    are you sure it an good book not interesting for me at all

    4out of 5
  42. Kirstin McCreadie Assistant Editor
    on 8 June 2010

    Street Child

    All the resources we have that link to Street Child can be found in the Teachers' shop.

    To view them, please copy and paste this link into the address bar:[query]=street+child&log=t&age_type=age_range&now=query&search[department_id]=&x=0&y=0

    You could also email this link. I hope this is helpful.

  43. street child
    on 7 June 2010


    you made a great story do you have it on dvd on the computer because i need to have the website so i can give it to my teacher