Cover Image: Fagin's Girl

Fagin's Girl

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Member Reviews

A twist on Oliver Twist for children of all ages.   Ettie Shaw is penniless and homeless orphan roaming the streets of London until she is spotted by her older brother Joe.

Joe has fallen in with a notorious pickpocket gang run by a man called Fagin, and Ettie has to disguise herself as a boy so she can come back with him to Fagin’s lair. Fagin was well portrayed as the terrifying criminal leader and there were some dark moments which are historically accurate for the life of many homeless children back then. 

The story did end abruptly and it didn’t feel like it was well wrapped up and left me feeling like I wanted more of Ettie and Joe’s story before hitting the happy ending. 

A quick, cute adventurous read for kids. Black and white illustrations help set the scene and large text makes it easy for all readers. It wasn’t anything spectacular but something fun and different especially for children who enjoy historical settings.
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I wanted to like this but things happened far too quickly and with not enough time to process or become particularly invested in the characters. Fagin felt like an unnecessary inclusion and I was expecting more. The unexpected ending could have worked far better with more time and spaced to develop the story. Additionally it did highlight the conversation that can be had about countries being founded and how this relates to colonisation. But the conversation was not had.

The historical information provided at the back was clear and gave a good starting point to inspire further research. Overall opinion is this was a solid foundation for a story but that the building of it was only half done.
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This was a very quick and cute read that I enjoyed! It was quite historical and I enjoyed reading about that! The writing was great and quite engaging. I would recommend this if you are looking for a quick read!

Thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the free e-arc!
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Very engaging book of how felons were transported to Australia from England in the 1800's. This is a great way to teach history to middle grade students. The author's additional information about the bigger picture of the colonization of Australia is a well balanced and factual accounting of true history.
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This is a great story set in Victorian times although the ending was a bit abrupt for me.  Ettie lives in a small room with her mum and brother Joe.  Every day Ettie and her mum work long hours making flowers to put on top of ladies hats, while her brother Joe works at some stables.  But one day, when Joe has an argument with their mum he storms out and Ettie doesn’t see him again.  Five months later Ettie is homeless, until she meets her brother again who says she can come with him and work for Mr Fagin, the only problem is that Ettie is a girl, and the only way she can work for Fagin is if she pretends to be a boy.

I really enjoyed this story from the start.  Ettie is a character I liked, narrating her story as she shows us how many poor people lived in Victorian times.  While her family’s circumstances used to be better, Ettie now lives in a small room with her mum and brother.  However after Joe storms out Ettie and her mum have to move to somewhere even smaller and soon something happens which results in Ettie eventually becoming homeless.  As the story progresses and Ettie reunites with Joe, they end up working for Mr Fagin.  I like how this story takes from the famous story by Charles Dickens.  I like the twist and how scary Fagin comes across.  I also like what happens with Ettie and Joe throughout the story, and how close the siblings are.  Unfortunately for me though the ending, though good, is the sort I’m not so keen on and I’ll explain why without trying to give any spoilers (but the following paragraph is as spoilery as it gets).

The ending of Ettie and Joe’s story stops abruptly after something happens and then we don’t find out what happened to the siblings after that moment, until the last chapter which suddenly jumps forward to modern times.  I don’t mind a story that jumps into the future to explain what happened in the past, and  I like how we eventually find out what happened to Ettie and Joe, but I have to say that I do prefer stories that finish off what happens in the past with a final chapter or words from the character who was narrating, rather than just us having snippets of what happened to them explained in present times instead.  I do understaind why it was written in this way though.

The illustrations in this book are lovely and I have to say I love how all the characters look and how you can see the expressions on everyone well and can feel the atmosphere in each picture.  The illustrations appear throughout the book on various pages and are all in black, white and grey.  They help with reading the story as does the text which is larger than usual and uses a special dyslexia friendly font.  The paragraphs are also separated and each page of the book is on a thick yellow coloured paper which makes it easier to read for dyslexics or others with visual problems.  The book is also around 100 pages long which makes it a great and short read for reluctant readers too.

At the end of the book there are author’s notes on each individual chapter, mentioning certain historical facts around what happens in each chapter.  I have to say I really enjoyed reading these as I didn’t know about the asparagus or what exactly happened to one sick character.  Overall this is a good book and it does have a good ending.  The story, though fiction, is based on historical facts in the things that happen to some characters and the world around them.  I do like a book like this, especially as it helps children to learn more about the past and what has happened.  However, I just would have preferred to stay longer in Joe and Ettie’s world and I would have personally preferred another chapter narrated by Ettie, even in the form of a letter or something, though as I said it’s still a good read.
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This is a book that's specially formatted for dyslexic readers which is so awesome! It's a super short read, but I feel like the plot was very rushed because of this. So much happens over a long period of time. Joe's character was also pretty mean to his family and I wasn't a fan of him. Ettie was a very hardworking character and I'm glad she had a happy ending. The illustrations in this book were probably my favorite part. The author also includes a little blurb at the end about the history behind what happens in the story. Overall, it's a fun, although a bit dark, read for kids.
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One of Charles Dickens’ favourite villains gets a fresh outing in this Oliver Twist inspired tale from the fabulous Karen McCombie. True to Barrington Stoke form, this read is printed in dyslexia friendly font and on tinted paper ensuring the book can be accessed by every child.

Although it was a struggle to make ends meet, ten-year-old Ettie, her brother Joe and their mother made the best of what they had. But when Joe walks out and mother dies, Ettie finds herself alone in the world and with no money to pay the rent is out on the streets of London.

Ettie’s luck changes dramatically following a chance meeting with Joe who is thriving under the employment of Mr Fagin. Joe desperately wants to look after his sister but that would mean introducing her to his boss who has a strict boy-only policy. Successfully disguising herself, Ettie is thrilled with her new life, blissfully unaware that Joe is part of Fagin’s criminal enterprise. But when she is forced to go pickpocketing, the truth and a terrible mistake threaten to tear brother and sister apart once more…

Set in Victorian England in 1836, Fagin’s Girl is a thrilling, petty-crime filled adventure that follows two homeless orphans trying to get by on the gritty streets of London. Life in Victorian England is hard when you have no home, no money, no food, no one to care for you and every day is a battle to simply survive. Whilst the rich swan about in their fancy clothes, enjoy luxuries and comforts and have people to sweep the streets for them, Ettie and Joe are doing everything they can to avoid the dreaded workhouses and are just trying to earn a pretty penny or two to feed themselves.

Pacy story-telling along with the illustrations of Anneli Bray will have readers turning the pages quicker than Joe and the gang can pick the pockets of the rich. Crime aside, this is a story of tight family bonds, of the heartbreak of losing everything - family, home and hope, and then regaining hope and harbouring thoughts of better days ahead.

With plenty of historical facts and some fantastic bonus content that discusses the historical aspects of each chapter in more detail - including information on piecework, disease, recycling and repurposing, children and animals - Fagin’s Girl would be a great book to use in class alongside a study of the Victorians.

With huge thanks to Barrington Stoke for the copy I received via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Recommended for 8+.
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Fagin’s Girl is an exciting Oliver Twist inspired adventure where an infamous gang comes to life once again. I like that in this version of this timeless classic it is told from the perspective of a female protagonist. This story is not only gripping but offers a hopeful message to young readers who will find this story not only fun but with relatable characters whilst focussing on families, sibling relationships and how during this time, families struggled with poverty and had to do almost anything in order to survive.

Accompanied with beautiful illustrations by Anneli Bray it is a very heartfelt read full of adventure, crime, theft and history. It is certainly one I will be recommending to students and it would be a perfect addition to any primary library/classroom especially if studying the history of the Victorian era.  

A huge thank you to the publishers, Barrington Stoke, for letting me read an advanced copy of Fagin’s Girl on Netgalley to read and review on my blog.   

You can buy/pre-order this fabulous book from all booksellers, online and of course using any independent local bookshop.

Barrington Stoke books help emergent, reluctant and dyslexic readers unlock the love of reading. There books are published in such a special way to ensure an accessible read for all.

Other Barrington Stoke books by Karen McCombie include:

Granny’s Little Monsters

The Girl with her Head in the Clouds

The Girl with the Sunshine Smile

The Lost Diary of Sami Star

The OMG Blog

Honey and Me
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I'm always down for a Dickens retelling, but this added literally nothing new to the genre. Due to it being a Barrington Stoke book, it didn't have too much room to fit the story in and the author clearly really struggled with this.

Events in Ettie's life happened quite rapidly, from her brother leaving in the very first chapter, to her mother dying in the next. I was quite looking forward to meeting Fagin, but it felt like he passed by in a moment, and we never met the Artful Dodger or got any sense of timeline - how far before Oliver this was.

What really threw me for a loop was the chapter in which Ettie and her brother are caught stealing, and I turned to the next chapter interested to see what would happen next - only for the entire timeline to shift to Australia, in the 1980s, during a school presentation where they rapidly gave us a run down of what happened next before the story ended.
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A very short but educational story. I think this is a really good way to teach young readers about what England was like in the 1800s and how things have changed since then. This book also touches on Aboriginal Australians which is really important. Overall, a great little book!
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This was a lot of fun and a very quick read. I loved that the end showed a family member in the future sharing Joe & Ettie’s story to others. This captures the reality of life during the Victorian era and how kids often had to do the dirty work of crooks like Fagin with the risk of being imprisoned in Australia at a young age.
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Karen McCombie is a beloved author of mine so I was delighted to see that she has a children's novella with one of my favourite publishers.

This is an enjoyable and engaging story that explores what life was like (especially for the underprivileged) in Victorian-era London. The book also sheds light on several issues such as poverty, hazardous work conditions, child pickpockets and prisoners, as well as the complicated history of Australia.

While I did wish the book was longer, it was overall a great read especially for its intended audience. I also liked the illustrations.
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Using Dickens’ dread criminal Fagin as inspiration, author Karen McCombie tells a story about a young girl in Victorian London in a bad situation after her parents die and her brother disappears, and how her fortunes change.

Young Ettie is in a bad way; she’s homeless and has to find work or she’ll starve. Miraculously, she reunites with her brother, and comes to work for Fagin, who has several boys under his roof. They are, unbeknownst to Ettie, pickpockets and the like, and when a job goes wrong, Ettie is again separated from her brother, who is sent to Australia for stealing.

Years later, young Lauren Ettie Shaw relates how her family came to live in Australia.

This is a grim story of poverty, hazardous working conditions, crime, and no good choices for a family or children once one lost the protection of a home and/or parent(s). The author includes enough detail to paint a grim picture for the countless impoverished children on Victorian London streets, and an interesting fact that children, if caught and convicted  of crimes like theft, were shipped with adult criminals to Australia.

I particularly appreciated, post-story, the chapter-by-chapter context the author provides, giving extra depth for her young readers to better understand how difficult life would have been for unprotected children.

It’s a short, informative and interesting book.

Thank you to Netgalley and to Barrington Stoke for this ARC in exchange for my review.
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Fagin's Girl is one of the new releases from children's publisher Barrington Stoke, one that takes some inspiration from the famous Dickens novel Oliver Twist to tell a surprising tale.

The book begins in London in 1936, where we meet Ettie Shaw. Ettie is a young girl who lives in a small one room apartment with her mother, and older brother Joe, and is struggling to get by following the death of her father. The family are doing what they can, having moved to a smaller home, and everyone is pitching in to help. Ettie and her mother make fake flowers to sell, whilst Joe works as a table boy at a local brewery.

However, when Joe reveals that the owner of the brewery was beating him, showing the huge bruises that cover his back, he admits that he left the job over a week ago. When he refuses to admit to his mother what he's been doing since, and how he's been getting money for the family an argument breaks out and Joe leaves.

With Joe gone, and with even less money coming in, Ettie and her mother have to move once again, and tragedy soon strikes. Suffering from arsenic poisoning, Ettie's mother passes away, leaving Ettie completely alone in the world. She tries to make it on her own for a while, sleeping rough and trying to earn pennies as a road sweep, but just when all hope seems lost she finds Joe once again. Joe tells her of a man, Fagin, who gives him work and a place to sleep. Joe and Ettie come up with a plan to disguise Ettie as a boy, convincing Fagin to give her a job. But now Joe has to try and hide the truth of just what it is he and Fagin's other boys actually do.

Karen McCombie doesn't hide things from her younger readers with Fagin's Girl, she puts the harshness and cruelty of this era at the forefront of things, showing how children would grow up in poverty, barely surviving, watching parents and siblings die. It's a shocking opening to a book, sure, but it's one that isn't hugely far from the truth of things. And that's something that I always like about Barrington Stoke's historical novels, and McCombie's work, such as The Girl With Her Head In The Clouds, they might be telling fictitious stories but they're very much grounded in reality.

That being said, this book does draw from some more fictitious places, as the name suggests. The book features Fagin, the famous figure from Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, which was first published in the same year that Fagin's Girl is set. Fagin is very much the same character here as in the Dickens book, though I did get the sense that this is him when he's still getting used to his system. He has less children working for him, there's no characters like Dodger there, and it very much seems to be his early days. And I really liked that approach. I think if the book did feature more characters from the original novel it would have felt a bit too much, a bit pastiche, but McCombie manages to walk a perfect line where it feels enough of a nod to the other boo, without going too far.

One of the things that surprised me the most, and this is a spoiler for the ending, so skip ahead if you don't want to know, is how the book shifted gears suddenly at the end. In the penultimate chapter of the book Ettie and Joe are caught pick-pocketing, and thanks to Joe's quick thinking only he gets in trouble for the crime. The next chapter then jumps forward 150 years to 1988, where a young schoolgirl in Australia is giving a talk to her class. It turns out that what we'd been reading the story about how this girls family came to Australia, as Joe was her ancestor. This whole thing was a bit of a shock, a twist I didn't see coming, but it actually worked really well, turning the book into more than a simple Georgian/Victorian era historical piece.

The book also comes with a number of illustrations scattered throughout the narrative, provided by Anneli Bray. Bray's work features on the front cover in colour, and looks absolutely wonderful, showing Ettie playing above the streets of London as the sun sets in beautiful oranges. But from here the artwork takes a darker turn, mostly due to being printed in black and white in the book itself. Now, I really liked this choice to not have the art in colour, as it fit with the narrative. Ettie's life is so hard, and the events so awful that there often feels like there's very little joy in her life, and the gloomy, black and white illustrations really highlight this, as they don't let the reader escape into brightness or bold colours.

Fagin's Girl ended up being an interesting look into life as a poor, downtrodden child on the streets of London in an era where no one would care is you lived or not, where survival was a daily battle. These can be topics that are hard to approach with younger audiences, but McCombie does it wonderfully, making it accessible, whilst not shying away from the awfulness.
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Thank you to the author, Barrington Stoke and NetGalley, for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This is a great introduction to the Victorian era for younger readers - it's short and yet evocative, and gives insight into what life was like for the large mass of people who didn't live a life of privilege. Lots of heavy topics (poverty, death, morality vs. survival, families torn apart) are mentioned, albeit with a light touch appropriate for the age of the reader, but they provide a good jumping-off point for further discussion. In the last chapter - Australia in the 1980s - the author picks up on the fate of those who were deported from England after committing crimes, and I loved the resolution given through the letters between brother and sister. Also: wonderful to have the facts behind the story at the end - that makes it all much more real.
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Brilliant story!! I love Victorian age historical fiction and this one makes a great introduction for children to that period. The feisty protagonist is an artful dodger after our hearts!!

Thank you to Netgalley and the publishers for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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My heart melted because of this book. 🥰

I really enjoyed it although I'm not the target of this story (I'm way too old), but I'm sure that it will be perfect introduction to Victorian era for younger audience. ☺️

Some things I loved:
💕 references to "Oliver Twist" 
💕 explanation of historical elements at the end of book (it can be really helpful for a young reader)
💕 pretty illustrations
💕 sibling love
💕 important themes 

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
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I love Barrington Stoke books and feel they are essential additions to every classroom. Fagin’s Girl did not disappoint. Filled with all the dark danger of Victorian London life it’s great to journey with Joe and Ettie and learn of a sibling bond so strong it can never be broken.
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I have mixed feelings about this book, but I will say that I think it's an important and interesting read. On one hand, as an adult reading it, I enjoyed the way we were shown the trials of the time period through the eyes of the children who were living it. But as a children's book, it certainly didn't gloss over any of the death and heartache that these children were living through. There was no happy ending here, and I suppose that's fair, as there were many stories of the time that ended the way this one did, with families torn apart and broken. I'm just not sure that the age range it was geared toward needs it presented quite this way. Or maybe it's important that it's honest and forthright. I'm at odds with myself. I enjoyed the characters and loved their connection and spunk! I would just say that you should know the child you're introducing this book to, and if they can handle reading about children who lose their mothers, are hungry, have to separate from family and who leave a positive legacy but themselves see very little in the way of happiness until they are much older.
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Absolutely brilliant book. Loved the concept of the book and the idea of a girl being in Fagins Gang. Definitely will be buying for the class
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