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Review of Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen and Brave Jane Austen

Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen: The Story of Six Novels, Three Notebooks, a Writing Box, and One Clever Girl
by Deborah Hopkinson; illus. by Qin Leng
Primary    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    40 pp.    g
1/18    978-0-06-237330-4    $17.99

Brave Jane Austen: Reader, Writer, Author, Rebel
by Lisa Pliscou; illus. by Jen Corace
Primary    Ottaviano/Holt    48 pp.    g
1/18    978-1-62779-643-9    $17.99

2017 marked the two-hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. Though much has been written about Austen’s work, fewer details are known about her life; however, these two picture-book biographies provide readers with overviews of her writing and personality and give historical context. Hopkinson’s has a narrow focus: Austen’s mostly uneventful life was spent observing those around her, and she combined this knowledge with her voracious love of reading — and the gift of a mahogany writing box from her father — to pursue a writing career, an extraordinary one in which she invented “a new kind of story” to “hold up a mirror to the ordinary world so readers could recognize (and laugh at) themselves.” Accompanying Hopkinson’s pithy text are Leng’s loose, delicate, ink and watercolor illustrations, which fittingly accentuate Jane’s youthfulness and the playfulness of her writing. Pliscou’s lengthier text, for slightly older readers, relates all the small details of Austen’s biography (descriptions of her childhood home, expected gender roles of the time, etc.) to emphasize the bravery it took to go against the norm and still achieve success. The decorative folk-art aesthetic of Corace’s colorful gouache, ink, acrylic, and pencil illustrations evokes styles common amongst the gentry during Regency England, nicely complementing Pliscou’s account. Hopkinson includes a timeline, brief descriptions of Austen’s six major novels, relevant websites, and a bibliography, while the back matter in Pliscou’s book contains quotes by and about Austen as well as additional information and resources.

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter About Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is associate editor of The Horn Book Guide. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons College.

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