The Picture Book Buzz

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Having enjoyed reading Pride and Prejudice and Emma, and loved watching Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, I was excited to read this biography. Especially since it wasn't going to be just a recap of what she accomplished, of the amazing novels she wrote, but an examination of the factors of her personality and struggles in life which honed her talent and accomplishments.


This book is a wonderful glimpse into the personality of Jane Austen and the various influences on her voice.


A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice


Author: Jasmine A. Stirling


Illustrator: Vesper Stamper


Publisher: Bloomsbury Children's Books (2021)


Ages: 5-9


Nonfiction


Themes:

Biography, finding one's voice, storytelling, and creativity.


Synopsis:

Witty and mischievous Jane Austen grew up in a house overflowing with words. As a young girl, she delighted in making her family laugh with tales that poked fun at the popular novels of her time, stories that featured fragile ladies and ridiculous plots. Before long, Jane was writing her own stories-uproariously funny ones, using all the details of her life in a country village as inspiration.


In times of joy, Jane's words burst from her pen. But after facing sorrow and loss, she wondered if she'd ever write again. Jane realized her writing would not be truly her own until she found her unique voice. She didn't know it then, but that voice would go on to capture readers' hearts and minds for generations to come.


Opening Lines:

Jane loved stories—long ones,

short ones, worn and new.


But there were some kinds of stories that she just couldn’t stand.


What I loved about this book:

Although Jane loved stories of all kinds, she disliked the "stale...predictable," fashionable "fluff" of the time. Books depicting constantly fainting women, love at first sight, or gloomy stories. Delighting "in anything ridiculous," Jane created parodies and spoofs of these stories, regularly entertaining her family.

Text © Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Image © Vesper Stamper, 2021.


Growing up with a father who prized literature, theater, and music, Jane and her sister were fortunate to be encouraged to be more than merely "elegant, obedient wives." Unlike other women, especially those from a lower class (a fact briefly shown in an illustration, but not addressed in the text). In fact, the entire family often created and staged plays in their barn. Watchful of others and enthralled with writing, Jane created three novels before she turned twenty-four. But they weren't quite right, "something was...missing." I enjoyed the cameos of English robins who appear in the beginning spreads and expand into a flock that gathers in the barn and watches the family's theater performance.


Eventually her brothers left. Grieving a forced move from the countryside to Bath (due to tight finances), Jane didn't write for four years. Having visited Bath in 2019, I adored Vesper Stamper's illustration of the famous Bath Circus (the curved buildings forming a circle) and the crescent buildings.

Text © Jasmine A. Stirling, 2021. Image © Vesper Stamper, 2021.


Then Jane's father died. and the beautiful pastel images change with her desolation and possible depression to shades of gray. Shuttling from a cheap apartment to a brother's house in a smelly dock town with her mother and sister, Jane spent four more years unable to write. Finally, one of her brothers offered them a cottage near her childhood home. Remembering her love of writing and her father's belief in her, Jane brought her experiences, wisdom, loss, hope, and a renewed spunk into her previous novels and new stories. Creating books which are still beloved over two hundred years later. And slowly the pastel colors return, along with a growing flock of robins.


The gorgeous, soft colors and textures of the illustrations collaborate beautifully with Jasmine Stirling's intent to show the experiences and inspiration behind Jane Austen's search and discovery of her voice and her ability to make "art out of the world around her." Scattered throughout the book are quotations from Austen's books and her own letters which offer readers a snippet of her voice. A detailed biography, author's note, illustrator's note, resources, and quotation sources round out an excellent nonfiction picture book on a fascinating author. One who brought an amazing voice to the world she knew. Excellently tracing the influences of Jane Austen's family and experiences, this inspiring book will be a great addition to every library.


Resources:

- make a handprint European or American robin for your own writing companion (https://www.simpleeverydaymom.com/robin-handprint-craft-for-kids/).


- what makes you groan? A rule, a certain book, or a TV show? Write a story, or draw a picture, making it seem funny.


- are there types of books really like to read? Try to write about something that happened to you in that book's style (humorous, nonfiction, graphic/comic, rhyming, etc.).


- check out the Jane Austen Paper Dolls offered on Jasmine Stirling's website. (https://jasmineastirling.com/jane-austen-treats).




If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's interview with Jasmine A. Stirling (here).


This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.

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Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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