by Brenda S. Cox
“For she had a lively, playful disposition, which delighted in anything ridiculous.” From Pride and Prejudice, used to describe Jane Austen herself in A Most Clever Girl
Are you looking for a children’s book that introduces Jane Austen with gorgeous illustrations, and a deeper look at who she was as a writer? A Most Clever Girl, a brand-new book by Jasmine A. Stirling and Vesper Stamper, does just that.
First, the text of the book. It tells Jane Austen’s story, beginning with her early attempts in the Juvenilia to satirize popular stories of her day and make her family roll with laughter. The busyness of her childhood home, and her father’s support of her writing, follow. Jane notices people around her, and writes her first novels.
Then, sadness follows. Jane has to leave her home in Steventon, live in Bath and elsewhere, and she loses her father. She experiences a long stretch of sadness, without writing new stories. (She did continue to write letters, but we don’t have many of them, and the author does not mention this in the children’s story.)
Finally she settles in Chawton and begins to write again. As the author says, “Jane’s voice was clever, as it had been in her childhood. It was still filled with real people. But grief and loss had added something new. Jane’s voice was wise.” The author comments in a note at the end, “I wanted children to see that genius is the product of experimentation, persistence, and literally–space, to flourish.” She does that beautifully.
Another delight is the Austen quotations scattered through the book as part of the story. Marked in italics, the quotes are very appropriately pulled from Austen’s novels and letters. At the end we find the sources of the quotes, as well as a more detailed account of Jane’s life, notes from the author and illustrator, and further resources.
While I love the message of this book, the full-page, lavish illustrations alone would be worth the price. One of my favorites shows the house in Steventon overflowing with children and adults, all busy doing things like jumping on the bed, declaiming Shakespeare, and playing the pianoforte.
The rich corals, golds, and bright greens will appeal to children, especially girls, I think. The characters’ expressions are vivid and delightful. And, the illustrator made a trip to England to keep the illustrations accurate.
This is a children’s book full of joy and wisdom. The publisher says it is for ages 4-12, which sounds just right to me.
I hope you can share A Most Clever Girl with a child you love!
At Easter, loss and death were transformed into life and hope. In Austen’s life, losses and difficult times made her a better writer. How has God used hard times in your life to make you a better person?
A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice, by Jasmine A. Stirling and illustrated by Vesper Stamper. Bloomsbury Children’s, March 16, 2021.
For more about the book, and to enter a Giveaway for a Jane Austen-themed picnic basket including a copy of A Most Clever Girl, go to The Children’s Book Review. You’ll also find the giveaway and a review at Jane Austen’s World. https://janeaustensworld.com/2021/03/22/book-review-and-giveaway-for-a-most-clever-girl-by-jasmine-a-stirling/
I reviewed a free advance copy sent to me by The Children’s Book Review and Jasmine A. Stirling. This is my honest review; I only review books I love and that I think my readers will also enjoy.