One cold day, a young woman walked into a small country town. She was very ill and weak, and she was going to have a baby. After a while she could not walk any more and she fell down in the road. Some people came to help her.
The young woman had no money, so they took her to the town workhouse. In those days that was where people went if they were too poor to look after themselves. Here her baby was born, and, soon after that, the poor young woman died. No one knew who she was or where she had come from.
The people at the workhouse called the child Oliver Twist. They sent him to a place where he lived with some other children. None of them had a mother or a father. Here, an old woman named Mrs Mann looked after them all.
It was not a happy life for Oliver Twist and his little friends.
Mrs Mann was a very cruel person. She never gave the children enough to eat. The people at the workhouse gave her money to buy food and clothes for them, but she kept most of it for herself. She did not care when some of the children died.
The officers at the workhouse did not know that she was so cruel. But Mrs Mann always knew when they were coming to see her. Every time, just before they arrived, she would clean the house and wash the children.
Charles Dickens was a very popular writer who lived in England in the time of Queen Victoria. Many of his stories are about children, and the hard lives of poor people in those days. Oliver Twist is one of the most famous and best loved.
Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist. Oxford Progressive English Readers; Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992
Grade 2 (2,100 headwords)