In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas or the novella more commonly known as A Christmas Carol. He wrote it in only six weeks, publishing it just six days before Christmas. It has been a Christmas classic ever since and makes for a wonderful read aloud for children (and adults) of all ages at Christmas.
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The book is based on the themes of how we treat the poor and how people can change from selfish and miserly to engaging with people in positive and meaningful ways. It is written in five “staves”. Stave is another word for a musical staff, which has five lines and Dickens chose to relate his ‘carol’ to music by calling each chapter a stave. There is an introductory stave, one stave for each ghost that visits him, and then a shorter stave to conclude the story.
Anybody who has read Dickens knows his works are full of imagery and other descriptive language. While this is wonderful to expose children to, you may wonder how young children might attend to the story. Every child is different, but my (busy!) boys were able to attend when they were just 8 and 9. Now, did they understand everything? Probably not, but they followed the story well enough with some explanation on my part.
One way to keep your children engaged during a read aloud like A Christmas Carol is to keep their hands busy coloring! So make sure you download the FREE A Christmas Carol Unit study below with characters and scenes from the book. But first, let me share some interesting history behind the novella.
The History Behind A Christmas Carol
Dickens had already written a few other Christmas stories before writing A Christmas Carol. It was a time in Victorian England when people were revisiting how to celebrate Christmas and were focusing more on family traditions. If you are interested in how Christmas celebrations have changed over the last 2000 years, check out The History of Celebrating Christmas that I wrote last year. (It includes a FREE unit study, too!)
The gap between rich and poor was a very real one in the industrialized period in London and one that Dickens had experienced himself. He was born to a middle class family and enjoyed attending school as a young child. However, when Charles was 12, his father hit upon hard financial times and had to go live in a debtor’s prison. Charles’ mother went to live with him in prison and Charles had to drop out of school and go to work in a shoe blacking factory. This life experience influenced much of his writing, including A Christmas Carol.
It is also thought that money may have motivated Dickens to write A Christmas Carol when he did. He was already an established and locally famous author, but some of his work was decreasing in sales. His publishing house had threatened that year to decrease his monthly income. The speed in writing the story in time to publish before Christmas may have been driven by his need to maintain his monthly income while his wife was expecting their fifth child.
Which A Christmas Carol Book to Buy
There are a few different versions of the book and if you already own one then that is the best book for you! But if not, I like this version of A Christmas Carol because of the extras included such as historical context and a 200 word glossary. It is also unabridged.
If you are concerned that your children would not be able to sit for the full unabridged book, this version of A Christmas Carol is shorter and has great pictures!
A Christmas Carol Unit Study
The A Christmas Carol Unit Study below provides children with pictures to color while they listen to A Christmas Carol being read to them. They can also draw pictures of different scenes based upon all the imagery provided in the text. Older children can write character and plot details on the pages or you can discuss as a family and have one person write in the details.
Vocabulary cards are included for some of the key vocabulary words. A template is provided to make your own vocabulary cards as well, since there are so many possible words in this story you could use to build your children’s vocabulary. There is also a fun writing prompt and a Venn diagram to compare the novella with the movie. (See the list of movie versions below.)
Watch A Christmas Carol
The Venn diagram in the FREE A Christmas Carol unit study above is to compare and contrast the written story with the movie. Or if you are so lucky, you could see a local theatre production of the story and compare that!
There are several versions of the movie. The most highly rated is the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim. Common Sense Media lists this movie as appropriate for ages 8 and up. (Read details here.)
If you want something newer, the 1984 version is also highly rated. Common Sense Media lists this version as appropriate for ages 9 and up. (Read details here.)
Finally, Disney made a version in 2009 starring Jim Carey. The reviews are definitely not as good as the ones above and Common Sense Media also lists it as appropriate for ages 9 and up. (Read details here.)
Learn More About Charles Dickens
Keep learning with our FREE Charles Dickens Unit Study! Based upon Magic Tree House A Ghost Tale for Christmas Time and Who Was Charles Dickens?, it contains notebooking pages, hands on activities, videos and more!
If you enjoyed A Christmas Carol, then check out this sequel written a few years ago!