I was one of those weird children that learnt to read at a young age. At three I was already fully submerged in reading the books at my play-group, pondering over the words, as my Mum has told me. I devoured the Peter and Jane books along with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Elephant and The Bad Baby before working my way to The Waterbabies (which still strikes my imagination today). The point of this is that I remember every one of those books with a tender recollection, the same way one might think of a childhood friend. Each story was an adventure in itself, and this was before I’d even discovered Narnia, Mrs. Pepperpot, Hogwarts, Hobbits, Malory Towers or even Green Gables, before I’d glanced at a classic, fallen in love with Mr. Darcy, or even read about love. I have fond memories of Mum reading out-loud text that ranges from Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott to Roald Dahl’s Danny The Champion Of The World and regardless of the sophistication of the writing or the intended audience, each is a treasured memory.
Books like these leave a literary imprint on who you are and, in my belief, your reading habits forever. So when I stumbled across a new book series called “BabyLit” where youngsters are introduced to Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet) and our Jane (Pride and Prejudice) early I just about died with joy. It also helps that the cover is Squee-Worthy.
These adorable “Counting Primer” board-books are brought to you by Gibbs Smith publishers, and I can tell you from the sneak peek I’ve been given of the contents that they are truly adorable (and involve ball gowns, violins, horses, marriage proposals and a mention of our Darcy’s 10,000 a year). If you want to get your little bub interested in Jane Austen as much as you, then with words by Jennifer Adams and quaint cartoon illustrations by Alison Oliver (that remind me of a mixture of Roger Hargreave’s Mr.Men/Little Miss books blended with Satoshi Kitamura’s UFO Diary), you can’t go past this. With gorgeous pinks, greens, blues and other dusty colours it’s the most elegant children’s book I’ve seen in a while, and if your child is learning their 1 to ten then this is a must buy.
Not only was Jennifer Adams kind enough to answer some questions about her creation, but her publishing team, via the wonderful Jill, has also given me permission to provide One Free Copy as a giveaway to a reader. I am going to grace one lucky reader with this free copy (Postage and Handling paid for, and all countries welcome!). All you need to do is leave a comment below stating why you want a copy. The best answer wins! I will contact you requesting your postal address after deciding the winner, so please include your email in the appropriate field.
Without much more fuss… on to the Q&A with Jennifer Adams. As avid Janeites, you may recognise the name from one of her previous books “Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen” which received a rave review from the lovely Laurel Ann over at Austenprose.
Why do you think it’s important to get young children interested in Jane Austen (and literature) at a young age?
Your parents reading to you, being held while you are being read to, the physical, tactile experience of holding a book and turning the pages—these are things that are imprinted on us so early. If you teach a child to love books when they are a baby—read to them, surround them with books—they will grow up to love books and be enriched by them throughout their lives.
Where did the concept for the BabyLit books come from?
My brilliant editor, Suzanne Taylor, came up with the idea of board books to introduce babies to the classics. Her tagline is “BabyLit is a fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature.” And it really is!
How did you go about choosing what would suit each number from 1 to 10?
Turning Pride and Prejudice into a book of twenty words is a lot more tricky than you would think! I wrote several different versions of the manuscript before we settled on making it into a counting book. As far as deciding what to put with each number, I tried to capture the characters of the book, and the flavor of Jane Austen’s world. The illustrator did a fabulous job helping with this. I also tried to capture major themes: like love, marriage, class, and money. So the three houses represent three houses to the babies, but to the adult reading the book, the size and affluence of Longbourn, Netherfield, and Pemberley tell a different, more layered, more textured story. That’s one reason I think these book will have a lot of appeal to adults as well as babies. There is a lot to them.
What other BabyLit books are there coming out? Any others planned?
We do have exciting plans for more BabyLit books in the wings. Let’s just say be on the lookout for orphans, vampires, and some interesting aristocracy.
Who is your favourite Austen heroine and why?
I love Elizabeth Bennet the most. Kiera Knightly said: “Everyone believes in some way that they are Lizzie Bennet.” And I think that’s why as readers we’re so drawn to her. We want to be her; we think we are her. Another reason I like Elizabeth is that she is flawed. She makes big lapses in judgment, big mistakes. But she is both young enough and wise enough to laugh at her mistakes. And I also love her because she learns from her mistakes and finds such happiness in the end. Isn’t that what we want for ourselves, and for all the people and characters who we love?
You previously wrote “Remarkably Jane: Notable Quotations on Jane Austen”. Are there any other Austen-related books planned?
Oh, what a great question! There has always got to be something lovely or fun or clever to do with Jane Austen. I can’t get over what a kick I got out of the whole Pride and Prejudice and Zombies dreamed up by Jason Rekulak at Quirk Books. I’m not sure what the next Austen book will be, but I’ll know it when it comes to me.
When did you first read Pride and Prejudice? What did you think of it?
I read Pride and Prejudice when I was seventeen. I remember sitting up in the late hours of the night reading a old copy at my grandma’s house. I was fascinated and intrigued by Mr. Darcy and the interplay of his and Elizabeth’s relationship. I remember reading that interaction when they are dancing at the ball like three times and trying to soak in all the undercurrents and sexual tension. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice probably seven times, and each time have gotten something new from it. The last time I read Austen, it was Mansfield Park, and I remember just sitting and laughing out loud and being surprised that I didn’t remember how absolutely biting and funny her sarcasm is.
What is your favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation?
I love Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, and I love Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet. I guess the BBC version is my favorite, but I do love director Joe Wright’s version for a couple of reasons—I love the lushness of the cinematogrphy, and I love that the atcors playing the characters are so young, like Keira Knightley was twenty when she played the role, the exact age of Elizabeth Bennet’s character. In some versions the actors are older so people think of those characters as a lot older than they actually are. The characters are very young and are full of spirit and spriteliness and angst just like twenty-year-olds should be.
BabyLit books are available on Amazon and http://www.indiebound.org/ for anyone to buy them at their local independent bookstore. Isn’t it the most charming children’s book you’ve seen for a long time? So, tell me for a chance of winning this book, why do you want a copy of BabyLit’s Little Miss Austen: Pride and Prejudice? (Giveaway ends: Friday 22nd July 2011, the book will be sent directly from Gibbs Smith and all details will be treated with confidentiality).