Children today do not often read the classics. Not in the same way they were encouraged and assigned when I was younger. But some classics and some authors have always held an important place in the discussion of literature. The works of Jane Austen are some of those works. There are two beautiful picture books that talk about her, her writing, and how she was such an unusual character in her time. Both books do a wonderful job of showing young readers who Jane Austen was and perhaps might encourage older readers to consider picking up one of her novels.
Lisa Pliscou presents us with a view of Jane in her book Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel. This engaging book shows young readers how a girl born in a small village in England in 1775 became one of the most renowned authors. Illustrations by Jen Corace give the book whimsy when the story isn’t always happy and upbeat. Brave Jane Austen shows how her life truly shaped who she was as a writer. She learned early on the different roles that men and women played. She also understood the notion of poverty when her family had to take in boarders in order to make ends meet and the dichotomy of being among the wealthy when you were without such funds. She listened to those around her used pieces of her life in her writing. Unlike other women of her day, Jane did not marry, rather, when she received her first published book it was like receiving her own child. Writing became a salvation for Jane and many still love reading her books. There is also great information in the back of the book for older readers who would like a little more information.
Another recent book about Jane Austen is Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen by Deborah Hopkinson. This book starts with the premise “it is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is one of our greatest writers. But before that, she was just an ordinary girl,” making a play on a famous Austen quote. Hopkinson takes a look at her young life and how it shaped her. Hopkinson shows a shy girl who was surrounded by interesting characters and experiences. Jane was a girl living in a time when the roles of men and women were vastly different and very few strayed from the expected path. But Jane had her own ideas, and while adventures stories and romances were the norm for books written in her time, she loved it when her family laughed at her stories and she wanted to write books that made others laugh and see themselves in her descriptions. With illustrations in soft watercolors, this is a beautiful book about the stories that we have come to know and love. Her life really did influence her writing. One of the things that I loved about this book is the fact that there are famous quotes from some of her books in the back.
These are really marvelous books that have encouraged this reader to try reading Jane Austen again with a new viewpoint. What about you?
Each Wednesday I try to post nonfiction picture books as part of the challenge set up by Kid Lit Frenzy. There are amazing books available for kids these days. Check the linkups on Alyson’s site for more!