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Amy Patterson runs the fantastic bookstore Jane Austen Books, along with her mother Jennifer Weinbrecht and her sister Beth Dean, and she blogs about Jane Austen at amylpatterson.wordpress.com. She’s writing a guest post on Fanny Price in Portsmouth for my series celebrating 200 years of Mansfield Park. The most recent Jane Austen Books Catalog features Austen-related books for children – and if you’ve been reading my blog recently you know I’m very interested in this topic – so I asked Amy if she’d be willing to answer a few questions about Jane Austen for kids and about her own interest in Austen.

Amy Patterson and Jane Austen Books at the JASNA 2013 AGM

Jane Austen Books at the JASNA 2013 AGM, from left to right: Amy Romero, Beth Dean, and Amy Patterson’s “giant selfie head” (her words, not mine!)

When did you discover Jane Austen’s books? Did you love them right away, or did that develop over time?

Penguin edition of Pride and PrejudiceHer books were discovered for me! My mother became a fan in her early teen years, and wanted to pass her love for Austen’s writing on to her daughters. She read us many books when we were young, including most of the classics by authors like Twain, Alcott, and Tolkien. But something about P&P stuck with me when she started reading it to us. I would have been somewhere between four and six years old. She did all of the voices, and she used context and vocal cues to sort of flesh the basic story out of Austen’s complex narrative. I think what stuck the most for me was Elizabeth’s way of speaking up for herself. Even as a young Penguin edition of Little Womenchild I admired the fact that she was strong, and she became as “cool” for me as Galadriel and Princess Leia. I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t love at least P&P, and as I grew up and read the rest of her novels they became favorites as well. She has always been a part of my life, and even as young girls my sister and mother and I shared a special Austen “language.” On our trips to the art museum we would pick out which portraits looked like our favorite characters, and Beth and I vigorously applied ourselves to whatever sonatinas we could get our little fingers on.

Is anyone ever too young to read Jane Austen? What do you think of the many adaptations of Austen novels designed for young readers, including the recent appearance of Austen-inspired board books for babies and toddlers?

I think it’s quite possible for a child to be too young for Austen. We had already had some experience with “chapter books” by the time we had P&P read aloud to us, so we were pretty experienced at listening for the important bits of action and dialogue. Being able to distinguish between background information and important action is a very important skill for children to develop at an early age. And practicing on Austen is (in my opinion) essential, because her cues are so much more subtle than, say, Dickens or Tolkien. You really have to understand what people want – Mrs. Bennet wants her daughters married, Mr. Collins wants a wife, etc. – to be able to pick out the critical moments in the story, because they’re not spelled out in huge battle scenes or violent arguments.

Cozy Classics Pride and PrejudiceI think the board books are a cute idea for the precocious Austen completist. I don’t know that they should or could replace knowing the full story, but they’re not intended to. In my opinion, they’re valuable for introducing a sense of setting and tone of the novels. The Wang board book [Cozy Classics: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice], for example, shows the characters in Regency costume and some of the rooms in Regency décor. And the Adams board book [Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice] conveys some information about the class differences between Darcy and Elizabeth.

1995 A&E/BBC Pride and PrejudiceI’m less comfortable with the YA/teen adaptations of her novels, even though most of the ones we’ve come across have been very well done. I suppose I feel that if a child is old enough to understand the words on the page, or at least knows how to look up the ones he doesn’t understand, then there shouldn’t be much of a reason not to read the originals, even if it means supplementing them with watching a film version, or watching the film first. And I don’t think her novels can be “ruined” by the film adaptations, simply because each of them has left out so much that there is still endless treasure to be found in the words on the page.

My own sons are three and five, and although they answer their toy phones “Jane Austen Books, can I help you?” they don’t yet know more about her than that she was a lady who lived a long time ago and wrote books that mommy loves and grandma has in her house. Colin (my oldest) has had a few Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth stories, but we’re still just getting started with big books. I will probably get them through Roald Dahl before I jump to Jane!

I know the answer to the question, “who’s your favourite Mr. Darcy on film?” (David Rintoul – Amy wrote about the actors who’ve played Darcy in the January/February 2013 issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine.) But I also know that you’re interested in Mr. Collins and the way Austen describes his upbringing and behaviour in Pride and Prejudice. (See Amy’s blog post “Do You Take this Man? Part II.”) Which of the actors who’ve played Mr. Collins on screen does the best job of getting at his character as Austen wrote it?

I think there have been a lot of near misses for Mr. Collins. But the 1995 Mr. Collins, played by David Bamber, is actually quite a wide miss. He is far too creepy, and is obviously the inspiration for the extremely creepy Mr. Collins in the Lost in Austen series. But the 1980 Mr. Collins goes a little too far the other way – he’s not quite mercenary enough. (Or perhaps his goofy theme song disarms us too much?) I think the 2005 Collins was surprisingly better than I expected, but it’s overall such a poor adaptation that I may have simply been cheering for the one thing that was close to correct.

Mr. Kohli, in Bride and Prejudice

Mr. Kohli, in Bride and Prejudice

Honestly, I like Mr. Kohli in Bride and Prejudice quite a bit. He’s embarrassingly enthusiastic and just barely pleasant enough to spend the mandatory five minutes with every morning before retiring to one’s rear-facing sitting room. But he’s also repulsively greedy enough, without crossing the line too far into simply personally repulsive, that it’s easy to see why Elizabeth (or in this case Lalita) is so turned off by him.

You were at last year’s JASNA AGM in Minneapolis with Jane Austen Books, celebrating 200 years of Pride and Prejudice. What were some of the highlights of the AGM for you?

What Matters in Jane Austen? by John MullanFor me, the highlight of the 2013 AGM was John Mullan’s talk on silences in Austen’s novels. As someone who developed a complex vocabulary very early in life, and someone who also has a bit of an OCD nature, I felt like he was inside my head, or perhaps that he had stolen my marked up copy of Emma and read all the crazy things I’ve written in the margins. It was a highlight because it also reinforced the idea that there is always something new to discuss regarding Austen’s books.

How are you planning to celebrate 200 years of Mansfield Park in 2014? Will you celebrate with your kids? I haven’t yet seen a Mansfield Park board book – do you know if there are any in the works?

Vintage edition of Mansfield ParkI will be re-reading MP, which isn’t really a celebration, because I read each novel at least once or twice a year. My boys have already attended a few balls at our local JASNA meetings and at AGMs, and they really enjoy them, so I may take them down to the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville this year.

I have not seen any MP board books, but as it’s (un)fairly unpopular with adult readers I’d imagine children’s authors would start with the more popular titles. We already have P&P and S&S, and I’m betting the next will be Persuasion. After all, nothing is more exciting to kids than a good old-fashioned head injury.

We are also making plans for the 2014 AGM in Montreal. We have already spoken to a customs agent about the border crossing, and my sister is studying the cash register manual so that we can set it up to take two forms of currency. We generally start planning several months ahead of time, but this will be our first time across the border as the owners of Jane Austen Books, and we don’t want to make any mistakes!

Jane Austen Books Mansfield Park comic ad

Celebrating Mansfield Park in 2014: Amy says, “Our advertisement in the Jan/Feb issue of Jane Austen’s Regency World Magazine is an MP joke.”

My very first AGM was the 2006 Tucson AGM, before we had the bookstore, and its theme was Mansfield Park as well. To use a cliché, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! A whole session on Henry’s black heart! As hard as it is to pick a favorite of Austen’s novels, MP is tied with Emma at the very top of my list of books that keep me coming back. There are just so many details, subplots, and esoteric references. It’s not a book you can ever put down and feel as if you’ve seen the whole picture, and that’s incredibly satisfying for those of us who need more than one plot at a time in our novels.

Thanks, Amy! I’m happy to have found one more person who lists Mansfield Park as a favourite, and I’m looking forward to celebrating with you and our JASNA friends in Montreal in October.

Since I first asked you about Mansfield Park board books, I’ve learned from Cozy Classics, via Twitter, that all of Austen’s novels are on their to do list, so someday we’ll be able to read the twelve-word version of MP. I wonder which twelve words they’ll choose….

Do any of you have things you’d like to ask Amy, dear readers? She’s kindly agreed to answer your questions here as well.