A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice; by Jasmine A. Stirling, illustrated by Vesper Stamper
Jane Austen loved stories, which was just as well as she grew up in a house full of words. She especially loved telling stories that made fun of the popular novels of her time, the ones about fainting ladies, street orphans and people who fell in love at first sight.
Taking inspiration from her own experiences of life in the countryside, she began writing her own stories. In happy times, words flowed as freely as the summer’s breeze. In sad times, words would freeze like the frost on a winter’s morning. One day the words dried up altogether. Would Jane ever write again? She would, and when she did pick up the pen it would be with a very unique author voice that would be celebrated around the world…
If like me, you know of Jane Austen’s famous literary works - Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, but know little of the author, what sparked her passion for writing and where her ideas came from then this is a super starting point. It is a brilliant child-friendly introduction to one of England’s most well-loved authors and how she discovered her voice to write all of the classics that are still read around the world long after her death.
We follow Jane’s journey from cheeky, witty and mischievous child-entertainer through to life-hardened and observant adult who rebelled against literary conventions. Jasmine A. Stirling does a wonderful job of telling Jane Austen’s story; the happy family childhood home, theatrics in the barn, having the unique opportunity to grow into something more than just an obedient wife, her utter disdain for the fluff stories of her time, her early funny story sessions with the family where she would poke fun at popular novels, financial and personal losses, troubles with writer’s block and finally publishing her novels. The whole read is fascinating and provides many an insight into the world that Jane lived in and how her experiences shaped her writing.
It wasn’t an easy journey to the top and at the heart of the story is a girl who suffered grief and adversity but Austen’s story is testament to what can be achieved with a supportive family, perseverance, the powers of creativity and is proof that good things can arise out of the darkest times. Young readers with aspirations of becoming authors will love Austen’s story and all readers can take heart from how Jane nurtured her talent to achieve greatness.
Thoroughly researched by both author and illustrator their love for the book shines through from beginning to end. From the front cover to the beautiful end papers to the rich back matter, this is one of the best picture book biographies I have read. The words, that are sprinkled throughout with quotations from Austen’s famous works, bring her to life on every page and exquisite illustrations, done using a palette that comes from the textile shades that were popular in Jane’s time, just beg to be pored over.
Recommended for 7+.