Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reading Jane Austen to Children

In the first few months of her life, my daughter was introduced to her parents' literary world. We read Pride and Prejudice, Alice in Wonderland, and the entire Harry Potter series aloud to her (also helping ourselves through long, sleepless nights). As she developed and became more active, her patience for such activities quickly dwindled. We had to find new ways of developing her taste in reading.

I was fortunate to be given a review copy of Pride & Prejudice: A Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams (you can read the guest post I wrote about it at AustenBlog). Here was a way for me to at least introduce the characters and themes of Pride & Prejudice. My daughter seems to enjoy it, though I admit it is not one of her favorite books (that distinction falls somewhere amongst Mike Mulligan, Curious George, and Fancy Nancy). Still, she enjoys pointing to the pictures and counting the images, especially the ball gowns that represent number 9. I have continued to search for more Austen-based children's books, and I'd like to take this opportunity to share the others I have found.

Jennifer Adams recently published Sense & Sensibility: An Opposites Primer. The whimsical artwork is again by Alison Oliver (these two have collaborated on an entire Baby-Lit series, my favorite of which is Alice in Wonderland: A Colors Primer), and the book is in many ways excellent. Along with the Pride & Prejudice primer, the duo would make a fabulous shower gift for the expectant Janeite. Opposites seems the perfect theme for a Sense & Sensibility board book, and I especially enjoy the big/little juxtaposition between Norland Park and Barton Cottage. Another clever moment comes with over/under, as well as some meat for JAFF readers, as it shows Edward riding a horse over a bridge, and then shows the horse wading under the bridge, along with the tentacles of a menacing looking sea monster. Always makes me laugh. However, the book seems to fall apart a bit at the end. The empty/full depiction of a hen house might have worked well for Emma, but it seems a stretch for Sense & Sensibility. I also could wish they did something with that most obvious contrast between Elinor and Marianne. So what if the cult of sensibility is above a toddler's head? We're not reading Austen to the child because we think its age appropriate.

I have also acquired Cozy Classics Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice by Jack and Holman Wang. This book features photos of felt dolls representing chronologically presented scenes from the novel. The dolls are adorable (dare I say cozy?), and I like the fact that the basic plot line is represented. Each image is accompanied by a single word (very nice now that my daughter is trying to read a bit). My favorite is "muddy", which narrates a picture of Elizabeth running through a field, skirts six inches deep in mud. As it is also the cover for the book, I suspect the authors were also particularly fond of this image. I must wonder if they destroyed the doll to get it. I have not read the other books in the series, but they have a Moby Dick and a Les Miserables, the latter of which is screaming at me to buy it.   

I have only found one other Austen adaptation for kids, and I am vastly pleased to say my daughter and I agree that it is the best. The book is virtually unknown, but I would highly recommend it to both children and adults. The story is The Beautifull Cassandra, illustrated by Juliet McMaster. First of all, The Beautifull Cassandra is one of my favorite pieces of Austen's Juvenilia (you can read my discussion/review and the full text of it here), and the story is represented in its entirety, complete with Austen's dedication. Ms. McMaster provides an afterword which is perfect to introduce a youngster to who Jane Austen was and why she is important. The book presents Cassandra as a mouse in an appropriately dashing bonnet (my daughter LOVES the hat!). All the other characters are also animals: the pastry cook looks to be a hamster, the coachman a frog (looks great in the bonnet!), Maria is a squirrel, and the widow is a cat (strange friendship). Eliza and I talk about how Cassandra is said to be amiable but she is really a very naughty little mouse, which I believe is introducing her to the notion of sarcastic humor. What more could one wish for their child to imbibe from Austen. I cannot praise this book highly enough. Everyone who reads this post should buy it at once and pray Ms. McMaster creates more of its ilk.
Note: Unlike the other books mentioned, The Beautifull Cassandra is not a board book.

If anyone knows of other Austen adaptation for children, please let me know! Her books are too ever present in my life for me not to attempt every avenue available to indoctrinate my child. I hope this post is useful to those similarly determined to raise their kids according to Jane.


  1. Thank you for this post, Alexa!!! My niece is already four and is sounds like she might be too old for the first three, but that last one sounds great! I've enjoyed checking the other board books out in both series and plan on owning them all whenever we decide to start a little family!!! Can't believe Eliza is old enough to try reading! How cute!

    Loved your quote here: "We're not reading Austen to the child because we think its age appropriate." LOL! So true! We do it for our own selfish reasons!

  2. Thanks Meredith! I'm so pleased you have a use for this, both now and in the future. Please let me know what your Bruce thinks of The Beautifull Casandra. It's an awesome way to introduce kids to Austen's wit.

  3. Thank you for sharing your review of the Austen children's adaptions. I have an 18 year old, who loves Jane Austen. I am excited that I have found a way she can share her love of classical literature with her little sister, who is 3. diannerosmun@yahoo.com

    1. You're very welcome, and thank you for the comment. I have a sister 13 years my junior, too, and I read to her all the time when she was that age. Now she's 21 and graduating from college! I wish I'd know about The Beautifull Cassandra back then. We would have had a lovely time with it together.