Cozying Up To Austen

austencropEarlier this month, I neglected to acknowledge the birthday of Jane Austen who was born December 16, 1775. (Shame on me for overlooking her!)

As an English novelist, Austen’s name is a familiar one to almost everyone who enjoys period fiction. Though her books are usually categorized with the Romance genre, I think her books appeal to a wider range of readers. Further, both Austen and her books have held consistent appeal for film and television audiences (imdb.com has an overview).

Writing during a time when women generally achieved their social status and economic security through marrying well, Austen’s books relate the strict conventions that governed social interactions. The author’s astute observations provide keen insights and amusing situations for one’s reading and re-reading pleasure.

At the Johns Hopkins University Press blog page, a guest blog post caught my eye when it was first posted in celebration of Austen’s birthday. Its title, Gifting Jane Austen, seemed particularly appropriate in the days leading up to Christmas.

The reason? I had just purchased two Jane Austen books for my two-year-old granddaughter!

English professor Janine Barchas (University of Texas, Austin) writes in her guest post that this gift-giving season is (was) a perfect opportunity to make “… a holiday present of a Jane Austen novel to that budding (or confirmed) Janeite in your circle.” She displays in her post a splendid variety of book covers from different editions of Austen books.

PridePrejudice

Now, my granddaughter is only two − and while she’s bright, she is not yet reading − so I didn’t actually purchase any 200+ page Austen novels for her. Instead, in a moment of serendipity, I discovered the Cozy Classics, and I’m absolutely enthralled!

The Cozy Classics are a series of board books that a “budding (or confirmed) Janeite” from the under-five age group might enjoy. I don’t know that Professor Barchas anticipated Austen fans in that age group, but why not?

Our diminutive future book lover (we expect she will be, as the rest of us are) can achieve Jane Austen fan-status first by studying the full-color pictures presented on each page of her Cozy Classics editions.

These pictures are not highly-detailed, but still simply expressive and they combine with a one-word description (i.e. “friends” − twelve words in all for a single board book) by which the child can comprehend something of the scene depicted on the page. It’s an impressive creation … and I suspect, a fun way to introduce one’s children to classic literature long before their reading level would normally allow it. How I wish these had been available when my children were young!Emma
Developing their reading skills would have been a much more pleasant experience.

I thought it was interesting to read the reviews of these board books on the Amazon website. One comment puzzled me with the commenter noting:

“The book establishes that less is more … The 12 words selected to tell the story of Pride and Prejudice are twelve words common to board books already, with the obvious exception of ‘marry.’ ….”  Read the entire review at Comparing Pride and Prejudice board books: From JA to YA

What puzzles me is the suggestion “marry” is an “obvious exception” to the rule for using common words with board book aged readers. Perhaps I’m being too picky? Argumentative?

My personal philosophy (as a parent, grandparent and home educator for a decade) was to employ a reasonable vocabulary with my children (whatever their age at the time). While some words/concepts may be beyond their grasp initially, the context often expands their understanding. A child who doesn’t comprehend the full scope of “marry” (enough to explain the concept for your satisfaction) is still capable of understanding common connections in relationships.

Furthermore, in my view the best way to encourage a child’s growing and broadening vocabulary is to speak normally using words one would normally use instead of dumbing down conversation to the child’s level. Children want to learn. They’re like sponges, absorbing every droplet of knowledge. This is one way we teach them.

One final thing about Austen. I always think of her mostly through the lens of her fictional character, Emma. This novel portrays Emma Woodhouse as a well-meaning matchmaker whose scheming often goes awry. For all Emma’s contrivances, she eventually realizes Mr. Knightley has captured her affections and she his, leading to their happily-ever-after life together … in stereotypically perfect romantic fashion.

For Jane Austen, novelist, a perfect romantic ending only happened in the pages of her books. She died single in 1817 at the age of 41.

Renée