From the critically acclaimed and best-selling author of Smack comes a
middle-grade tale of adventure and cunning in the spirit of Treasure Island
Victorian London in the 1850's: Jamie, Ten Tons and Davies are young "mudlarks"scavengers who eke out a meager existence by reclaiming bits of coal, rope, and anything of value from the muddy banks of the River Thames. Anything they find might keep them from starving for one more day.
When they see a massive roll of copper fall off a ship, the trio comes up with a daring plan to retrieve it and make their fortunes. But can three small boys alone retrieve the impossibly heavy copper from the bottom of the Thames? They resolve to find a wayor die trying.
About the Author
Melvin Burgess is the author of many novels for young adult and middle-grade readers. Among them are The Baby and Fly Pie, and Smack (winner of Britain's Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize for Fiction, as well as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults). Mr. Burgess lives in Lancashire, England.
Richard Williams has been illustrating books and magazines for twenty years. His clients range from Mad Magazine to Reader's Digest. He is also a nationally known portrait painter . Richard Williams resides in Syracuse, New York with his wife and two daughters.
Read an Excerpt
Don't get me wrong. I don't live by stealing. I'm a worker. I have responsibilities. If my father or mother found out I'd been on that boat they'd skin my back with the belt.
One day, they'll skin my back once too often and I won't come back and then they'll be sorry. Davies and Ten Tons are always on at me to go and live with them and let my family look after themselves. They say, “They take your money and spend it on milk for the baby and a new dress for your sister.” To tell the truth, I'd like to be my own man, but . . . they're my parents! They brought me up.
There are good things in a family, anyway. That day we got aboard the tall ship, Davies and Ten Tons went back dripping wet to sleep in an old barge half sunk in the mud by Bow Creek. My mother had dry clothes for me and there was a fire even though it was April. When Davies broke his jaw, he lay in that wet barge for three weeks on his own with only Ten Tons to look out for him. If I get ill my mother buys medicine for me, and I get thick broth to eat every day.
When I tell them that, Tens' eyes go as round as hoops. He can never hear enough about having a family. But Davies is harder.“A man has to make his own life. You'll come and live with us one day, won't you, Jamie? And we'll get ourselves a berth on a boat and see the world.”
“Yes, yes!” cries Ten Tons.
“One day,” I say.
Oh . . . I'd leave home tomorrow if I could do that. The thought of sailing away down the river and out to sea . . . it makes me ache to think about it, I want it so much. It's all we three ever dream about.
We don't want to be a coalwhipperlike my dad, unloading coal from the brigs that come down from the north. We're going to sail round the world and see all the places and people we rule over, and the savages, who have to do whatever a British boy tells them. Even the poorest lad can see the world if he lives on the river . . . except someone like Ten Tons, who's not good for much. But we'll look after him, me and Davies. He says he's going to dress up in feathers and pass himself off as a parrot. He's clever, Ten Tons, but what good's brains if you're small and weak? He's lucky he's got us!
Us three! Right round the world and back! Except . . .
Except it's not so easy. If you're a man it's one thing, but us boys . . . we'd have to buy our way on board ship to learn a trade. I don't want to wait until I'm a man, but I had as much chance of saving up to buy my passage as Ten Tons did of being a parrot. If I ever do make any spare money, my family just gobbles it all up.
It's not fair. It's not my fault my father and mother have more children than pennies. But even if I did leave home I still couldn't get a berth. If it was so easy to earn all that, do you think Tens and Davies would still be here? I once spoke to a cabin boy and his father paid five pounds. Five pounds! I thought you could buy a whole ship for that money.
Come to think about it . . . maybe Ten Tons' idea of disguising himself as a parrot is better after all.
There's eight of us in our family. We live in a couple of rooms on Burcham Street. There's my mother and father and me and Ellen, who's six, and David, who's eight, and Joan, who's . . . well, I forget how old Joan is, except she's not so big as me. Then there's Sally, who's only very little, and the oldest, Mary. Mother and Father are always on at her to move out. That's not counting the baby. Mother said she didn't know where it came from, since she thinks she's too old for them now. But he's sickly and no one expects him to live. Mother says it'll be a relief when he dies. The poor little thing suffers too much and anyway, he cries all night and it makes our lives harder.
I'm eleven years old and I'm four and a half feet high. Davies and Ten Tons don't even know how tall they are, but I'm taller than either of them even though I'm the youngest of us three. I went to school for three years, and I know my alphabet. I can read, but I'm not much good at writing. I used to go to school with Mrs. Prenderghast. My dad paid her with a little bag of coal every week. Davies don't know a from b but Ten Tons can read and write and count up to a hundred. He taught himself. He's the cleverest person I know.
I love my mother and father and I'm proud to be a working man and help keep us all fed, but the trouble with honesty is, you have to work hard and get nowhere. As they say . . . light fingers make light work. It's nice to feel proud, but I often think I'd rather be a bit more ashamed of myself and have a life living with Ten Tons and Davies.
The Copper Treasure. Copyright © by Melvin Burgess. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Table of Contents
One The Tall Ship,
Two The Dreams,
Three The Plan,
Four The Rope,
Five The Timber,
Six The Lift,
Seven The Accident,
Eight Ten Tons Marks the Spot,
Nine The Copper Treasure,
Ten The Alice May,
About the Authors,