Opinions vary about when (and also whether) to introduce children to Jane Austen. Age 12 is a common answer for the right age to read Austen for the first time, but why not get started at age 1 or 2? Here’s a list of books and resources for kids interested in learning more about Jane Austen, and/or for adults interested in sharing Austen’s novels with the children in their lives. I hope you’ll add your favourites in the comments below.
By Jane Austen:
The Beautifull Cassandra, by Jane Austen, illustrated by Juliet McMaster (Sono Nis Press, 1993). This is my favourite book for introducing children to Austen, because the whole story is by Austen herself, and because McMaster’s illustrations are delightful. She also includes a helpful Afterword that tells children about Austen’s life and her writing.
You can read about the creation of this book in Persuasions 10 (1988) and Persuasions 15 (1993). If you follow the link to McMaster’s article in Persuasions 15, you can also read her story “The Beautifull Jane: A Biography in Twelve Chapters.”
Here’s a review of The Beautifull Cassandra at Austenblog by ten-year-old Emma Carton, who writes, “I loved this book because it was written by a kid for kids…. Jane Austen is a wonderful writer and I can’t wait to read more of her books.”
“The Beautifull Cassandra: The Pictures, the Music, The Dance,” with illustrations by Juliet McMaster, music by Joanne Forman, and choreography by Amber Vasquez (published by the Jane Austen Society of North America), is available online.
Jack and Alice, by Jane Austen, edited by Joseph Wiesenfarth with Laura Maestrelli and Kristin Smith, illustrated by Juliet McMaster (Juvenilia Press, 2001).
Jane Austen’s novels adapted for younger readers:
For babies and toddlers
The Cozy Classics series of board books
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jack and Holman Wang. You can read my blog post “Pride and Prejudice for Babies” here.
Jane Austen’s Emma, by Jack and Holman Wang. Here’s my review.
The BabyLit series of board books
Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Adams, illustrated by Alison Oliver. I talk about this book in my post on “Pride and Prejudice for Babies.”
Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice playset (sold with the book), with cards to punch out and a box to use as a stage.
Goodnight Mr. Darcy, by Kate Coombs, illustrated by Alli Arnold.
For older children
Real Reads abridged versions of Austen’s six novels, retold by Gill Tavner and illustrated by Ann Kronheimer
My review of the Real Reads Sense and Sensibility.
My post on “Pride and Prejudice for Babies” includes a discussion of the Real Reads Pride and Prejudice.
My thirteen-year-old friend Rose wrote a review of the Real Reads Mansfield Park for my blog. And here’s what Rose said at the age of fourteen about her first impressions on reading the complete novel, after first encountering the story in the abridged version: “Rose Reads Mansfield Park.”
Read Tracy Hickman’s review of the Usborne Young Reading Series adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (by Susanna Davidson, illustrated by Simona Bursi) at Austenprose.com.
Lizzy Bennet’s Diary, by Marcia Williams
This one isn’t an adaptation of an Austen novel, but it has some entertaining parallels with Sense and Sensibility: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street is the second book in a wonderful series by Jeanne Birdsall, and a mysterious “Marianne Dashwood” figures prominently in the plot.
The first book in the series, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy…, won the 2005 National Book Award for Young People, and it’s my favourite children’s book since Anne of Green Gables – I recommend it to everyone I know, I recommend the sequels highly, too, and I can’t wait to read the fifth book in the series when it’s published.
Read about the Austen connections – including characters named Jane and Lizzy and references to hating flannel shirts – in The Penderwicks on Gardam Street in my post “A Passion for Dead Leaves.”
Jane Austen’s Life and Works:
Young Jane Austen: Becoming a Writer, a “speculative biography” by Lisa Pliscou. “The thread that connects all the pieces of the story is a question Jane Austen must have returned to again and again: what opportunities are open to girls? This was an excellent question in the late eighteenth century and it’s an excellent question now. Lisa draws attention to possible answers throughout her book.” I wrote about Young Jane Austen in this post on “Imagining Jane Austen’s Childhood.”
Jane Austen: The Girl with the Magic Pen, a biography by Gill Hornby
Jane Austen for Beginners, by Robert G. Dryden. Laurie Kaplan reviewed this introduction to Austen’s life and works in the Winter 2013 issue of JASNA News: “Jane Austen for Beginners would make a good birthday or graduation present for a ‘noisy and wild’ young person like Catherine Morland, or for a teenager who, like Catherine at seventeen, has an ‘inclination for finery’ and is in training to become a hero/heroine.”
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen: The Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl, by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Qin Leng, and Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel by Lisa Pliscou, illustrated by Jen Corace, reviewed by Cynthia K. Ritter.
Conversations and News about Jane Austen for Kids:
“Reading Jane Austen to Children,” by Alexa Adams
“Is Anyone too Young to Read Jane Austen?” blog post by Laurie Viera Rigler, author of Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict
From JA to YA: adapting Jane Austen for young adults, a blog by Kara Schaff Dean
Ann Patchett interviews Yashwina Canter, a “passionate young reader” who has high praise for the Cozy Classics books – “Get ‘em started early” – and says Pride and Prejudice is “the classic that made me go read all the other classics I could get my hands on, and as a result, it’s the book that made me so desperate to study English.”
I interviewed Amy Patterson of Jane Austen Books about “Mr. Collins, Mansfield Park, and Jane Austen for Kids.” She says, “I think it’s quite possible for a child to be too young for Austen,” but that the Austen-inspired board books are “valuable for introducing a sense of setting and tone of the novels.” When I asked her about adaptations of Mansfield Park, she said, “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.”
“JA in YA: To Jane on the 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice,” by Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal. “The young adult fiction market … is overflowing quick-witted adaptations of Austen novels that are sure to delight new and longtime fans of the author.” Diaz’s list includes Enthusiasm, by Polly Schulman, Prom & Prejudice, by Elizabeth Eulberg, Spies in Prejudice, by Talia Vance, and Epic Fail, by Claire LaZebnik. She also recommends “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, developed by Hank Green and Bernie Su – “The online adaptation charmingly engages with the original’s plot, while offering fresh twists, a diverse cast and modern sensibility, and up-to-date teen speak” – along with “Welcome to Sanditon” and “Emma Approved.”
For the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park, I reviewed Claire LaZebnik’s very funny and very smart novel The Trouble with Flirting. You can also find Lisa Galek’s review of the novel at Austenprose.com.
“Awesome mom, possibly a Janeite.” Blog post by Deborah Yaffe about a mom who “decided to use photography, dress-up, books, crafts, cooking and field trips to teach her preschool kids about amazing women of the past,” including Jane Austen.
Jane Austen Paper Dolls: Four Classic Characters, by Eileen Rudisill Miller
Pride and Prejudice Paper Dolls, by Brenda Sneathen Maddox
The Activity Village site includes a Jane Austen colouring page, a worksheet, and a learn-to-draw page.
So Jane: Crafts and Recipes for an Austen-Inspired Life, by Hollie Keith and Jennifer Adams. Read Lisa Galek’s review at Austenprose.com.
The Jane Austen Action Figure used to wear a green spencer, but the new one wears pink. Comes with a book (Pride and Prejudice, of course) and a quill.
Watch “Furst Impressions,” an episode of the children’s show Wishbone, and read Kara Schaff Dean’s analysis of it at her blog From JA to YA.
Dean says “this is an adaptation which genuinely attempts to reach its audience, not just wink slyly at the parents.”
Read Eleanor Hersey Nickel’s essay on “Furst Impressions” in the Winter 2013 issue of Persuasions On-Line: “When Darcy is a Dog: How Wishbone Introduces Children to Jane Austen.”
Nickel writes, “The Wishbone episode is not only appropriate for children but lacks many of the Hollywood clichés and the ‘harlequinization’ that frustrate scholars about Austen films aimed at adults. … [It] provides a refreshing alternative for all viewers who appreciate the friendships, social rituals, and good manners that sustain Austen’s happy couples.”
Clothing, games, cookie cutters, pens, pencils, first aid supplies, and other Austen-related things:
There’s plenty of Austen-inspired clothing for kids. I have to say I prefer the clothes that command us to “Read Austen” to the inevitable “I heart Mr. Darcy” t-shirts. And I do like the Mr. Woodhouse-inspired bib.
For babies: t-shirts, bibs, onesies, and even diapers.
For older children, there are almost enough t-shirts that you could wear a different one every day of the year, if you really wanted to.
If your kids love baking, they might like these Pride and Prejudice cookie cutters, featuring the famous silhouette of Jane Austen and a (less famous) silhouette of (the very famous) Mr. Darcy.
At the Jane Austen Gift Shop in Bath, you can find child-sized bonnets, jigsaw puzzles, temporary tattoos, pencils, quill pens, colouring books, and tiny copies of Austen’s hilarious History of England by a Partial, Prejudiced & Ignorant Historian. They also have an initial seal and sealing wax set – I had one of these when I was a kid and I loved it, long before I discovered Jane Austen.
There are even Jane Austen bandages, for all your cuts and scrapes. Another way of interpreting the idea of “Jane Austen therapy” — and why not introduce your kids to Austen therapy at a young age? Comes with a free temporary Austen tattoo.
Happy reading, and colouring, and I hope you never have to use the bandages for yourself or your kids. Please share your own recommendations below.