A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice

A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice by Jasmine A. Stirling

I have been meaning to write this review since July, when I purchased this book for my niece, but it just seems like every time I try to sit down and write it something gets in the way. Don’t you hate when that happens?

But no longer, I am happy to finally post my review of this book.

Back in August of 2020, Jasmine Stirling reached out to me regarding her new children’s book on Jane Austen. As part of a lead up to the release of her book, she was reaching out to various Jane Austen bloggers, writers, etc.; and creating a resource center for parents and children wanting to learn more about Jane Austen.

She asked if she could interview me, and I agreed. It was the first time I have ever been interviewed and I found it to be such an honor, especially as she included me alongside some powerful Austen players. I have copied the interview below:

What Jane Austen film adaptation do you think would most appeal to kids?

Me: For a modern adaption, I believe Clueless is probably one of the best gateways into Jane Austen. It is funny, has great lines, and is something that teens will immediately love. Another great modern adaption of Jane Austen for kids is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries as it is a series of short videos (something they are more used to watching with tiktok, Snapchat, etc.) and with it being told in the format of a Youtuber, kids can easily connect to it and the story. For a Regency adaption I would suggest Sense and Sensibility (1995) to start with. While Sense and Sensibility (1995) is an older adaptation it has really good pacing with comedy and drama. Kids can sometimes find it hard to connect to period drama but this has romance, drama, grief, mean girls, etc.

What’s a kid-friendly Regency or Jane Austen-related activity, craft or other entertainment you might suggest for families to try?

Me: I love crafts so I have a few suggestions. One easy and fun craft to do is make silhouettes of each other as kids will love tracing each other and having themselves traced. Another cute craft is to make paper fans or paper boats. Or if your children enjoy playing with dolls making paper dolls, felt dolls, or clothespin dolls is also something they will always find fun.

If you know how to to embroider or sew, working on a group project together-such as making a quilt, pillows, hand towels, tea towels, pillowcases, etc.-is also something you can do.

What’s one thing you love about Jane Austen? Why?

Me: There are two things I absolutely love about Jane Austen. The first is that I love the pacing and plotting of her books and the balance between drama and comedy. All her novels have extremely somber or heart wrenching moments; along with comedic lines or hilarious scenes. She also always knew how to end a chapter leaving you wanting more.

The other thing I love about her books is how the stories and characters transcend Regency England so that the motifs, personalities, and points raised in her books are still relevant today. Who hasn’t meet a social climber like Caroline Bingley? A schemer like Lucy Steele? Manipulators like Isabella and John Thorpe? Had a regret like Anne Elliot? Met a flirt like Henry Crawford? Known a person who wanted so badly to have a friend they did whatever someone asked of them like Harriet Smith? Haven’t we all been accused of being an ice queen like Elinor Dashwood? Let our heart rule our actions like Marianne Dashwood? Misjudged someone and actively disliked a person when they insulted you like Elizabeth Bennet? Had to make a choice whether to stick to what we believe in, even if it meant losing something you hold dear like Fanny Price? Disliked someone because they were better than you at some things like Emma Woodhouse? Let our imaginations run away with us like Catherine Morland? I think one of the reasons we still read Jane Austen 200 years later is that it is so easy to connect to her work.

How do you share your love of Austen with children?

Me: I do not have kids but that hasn’t stopped me from sharing Jane Austen. For little ones I like to gift the Babylit Jane Austen books by Jennifer Adams. They are on different subjects like numbers and emotions, but each book features characters or items from the novels. I first read Jane Austen when I turned 16 and it has now become a tradition for me to gift one of her novels when someone I know turns 16. I am also always trying to encourage my nieces to read or watch Jane Austen, and there are a lot of adaptions out there that make great gifts. With so many fans of Jane Austen you have a lot to choose from, both from modern adaptions and her works.

The picture book was released in March, but I decided to wait to purchase it until my niece’s birthday in July. The age range recommended for this book is 5-9, but as my niece was turning 10 and still enjoyed reading picture books from time to time, I thought she might enjoy this too.

When the book arrived, I of course had to read it first and I really liked it. First of all it had beautiful illustrations, I really enjoyed Vesper Stamper’s style.:

I also liked that this book had a lot of information on the Jane Austen and her family, yet it wasn’t overpowering or too much for children to understand, and it did have additional information in the back of the book for anyone wanting to know a bit more. I felt it was a beautiful and great beginning biography to brainwash share with the children in your life.

One thing I have noticed in recent Jane Austen children’s biographies is that many authors go overboard trying to make Jane “ahead of her time” or that she was so “progressive” she “rebelled” against society disliking needlepoint or other feminine things, etc. I definitely didn’t feel that with this picture book was trying to paint her in any particular way, it felt like an honest portrayal of Jane Austen, written by someone who is a fan of her works.

My niece doesn’t typically read nonfiction books, but when she opened her gift she was immediately drawn to the illustrations, and read through it quickly, reading it again later, much slower.

I definitely recommend this book for the child in your life. I think it would be a perfect addition for any child’s bookshelf.

For more Jane Austen children’s books, go to Little Literary Classics Mansfield Park Cloth Book

For more Jane Austen biographies, go to Jane Austen: Her Heart Did Whisper

For more picture books, go to How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

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