, , , , , , , , , ,

Cozy-Classics-Pride-and-Prejudice-largeThis is the first time I’ve reviewed a book that’s only twelve words long. Cosy Classics: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (2012), by Jack and Holman Wang, is even shorter than Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice (2011), a counting book by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver (which had nineteen words, eleven numbers, and a few captions included in the illustrations).

The idea behind the Cosy Classics board books is “to help babies and toddlers build vocabulary and learn everyday concepts such as body parts, emotions, animals, relationships, actions, and opposites,” and to “help children find further meaning through a growing sense of narrative.” Jack and Holman Wang have chosen twelve words that illustrate aspects of the plot of Pride and Prejudice, words that can either be read on their own, or used as inspiration for parents and older readers to fill in more of the story when the child is ready for more complexities.

The book introduces and illustrates “friends” (Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy, although they are not named), “sisters” (Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, also not named in the book), “dance” (Jane dancing with Bingley), “mean” (Darcy ignoring Elizabeth), “sick” (Jane in bed at Netherfield), “muddy” (Elizabeth walking through the fields to get to her sister), “yes?” (Darcy on bended knee, proposing to Elizabeth), “no!” (Elizabeth turning away from him), “write” (Darcy writing his famous letter of explanation), “read” (Elizabeth reading the letter), “walk” (Darcy and Elizabeth walking arm in arm), and “marry” (Jane and Bingley, and Elizabeth and Darcy, in front of a stained-glass window). The illustrations are created by photographing needle-felted dolls in realistic-looking settings—ballrooms, drawing rooms, fields, and church—and the felted figures are very different from the cartoon-like drawings that appear in Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice and Gill Tavner’s Real Reads version of the novel.

While all three adaptations aim to introduce young readers to the world of Pride and Prejudice, and to inspire them to read the complete novel someday, each employs a Real Reads Pride and Prejudicedifferent strategy to entertain and intrigue the audience. The Real Reads Pride and Prejudice is for an audience of older children, and the narrative highlights the most dramatic moments in the plot, especially Darcy’s proposal and Elizabeth’s refusal. Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice focuses on characters and setting (ranging from the obvious—“1 english village,” “2 rich gentlemen,” “3 houses,” “5 sisters”—to the less obvious—“6 horses,” “7 soldiers in uniform,” “8 musicians,” “9 fancy ball gowns”) and drawing attention to the plot only in the illustrations for “4 marriage proposals” (in which Lizzy says “No way!” to Mr. Collins and “No!” to Mr. Darcy’s “Marry me?”, Jane says “Oh sure!” to Mr. Bingley, and Lizzy says “Yes!!” when Mr. Darcy finally says “Please marry me?”), and on the last page of the book, in which money is revealed to be the key to a happy ending: “10,000 pounds a year.”

The Cosy Classics Pride and Prejudice outlines a very basic progression of important scenes, and draws attention to Darcy refusing to dance with Elizabeth and to Elizabeth rejecting his proposal. By showing Darcy writing and Elizabeth reading his letter, the book hints at the process they go through to arrive at a more accurate understanding of one another. For reasons of early nineteenth-century propriety, it doesn’t work to show Bingley and Darcy at Jane’s bedside when she is “sick,” but I can see why the authors chose this way of indicating where Jane is. My main criticism of the choice of words is that substituting “talk” for “walk” would represent the crucial reconciliation scene between Elizabeth and Darcy more accurately.

Little Miss AustenIt’s fascinating to see which elements of Austen’s novel receive attention when the story is being presented to a particular audience, whether it’s being adapted for film audiences or for babies and toddlers. How interesting that the Cosy Classics Pride and Prejudice ends with marriage, rather than money. And yet the “10,000 pounds a year” at the end of Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice is also accurate and very funny.

Of course, we know where to go to get the whole story, both the marriage and the humour—and seriousness—about the importance of money. Until children are ready for Grown-up Miss Austen: The Original Pride and Prejudice in all its Glory, these short adaptations invite them to become familiar with the characters and plot of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. The Cosy Classics Pride and Prejudice offers a delightful fresh take on adapting the story for the very young, with unique and charming illustrations that highlight some of the most important scenes from the novel.

But—much as I enjoy sharing these versions of Austen’s novels with the young readers in my own life, I’m left with one big question:

Is it a good idea to give away the endings of Austen’s novels—or other classics—before readers are old enough to discover for themselves what happens to the characters?

My initial feeling is that I don’t mind giving away the ending of Pride and Prejudice through board books, abridged books, and film adaptations, mainly because the story and characters are so famous. But I’m not sure I’m in favour of spoiling the endings of all Austen’s other novels. I enjoyed the suspense in Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park and the other three major Austen novels when I read them for the first time, and my experience would have been very different if I’d seen all the movies or read abridged versions first.

I’d love to know what you think about this question. Have you read, or will you read, these board books and abridged versions to the children in your life, or do you think you would avoid these versions entirely, until the children are ready for the complete novels? Would you read some of the adaptations, but save the other novels for later?