Young Jane Austen is a sweet, but odd, children’s book about the childhood of Jane Austen. It’s actually three books. The first is a children’s book which is a “speculative biography”. The author is clear in the introduction that she is using the few facts about Jane’s early life as a springboard to try to imagine this life in more detail. It’s graced with charming illustrations by Massimo Mongiaro. They are lovely line drawings that convey a delicate sense of emotion and detail. The writing is more awkward – in trying to keep the language simple, the author frequently comes across as talking down to her audience.
The second book within a book is the annotated version – here we get the whole book again with each section followed by more factual notes and background. It’s an odd structure. I preferred the annotations to the actual book, to be honest, because they involved less conjecture and were more matter-of-fact in tone – the main text is quite cutesy.
The annotations are followed by a short biography of Jane Austen and a timeline, as well as a bibliography.
So did I like the book? Well, I found the information in the timeline and annotations to be helpful, and I loved the illustrations. To be fair, I should find some children and get their opinion of the main section of text. I’m pretty sure that my eleven year old daughter would view it with withering scorn because the tone is so cutesy. Perhaps it might work better for a child of around eight? Of course it’s hampered by the fact that not much happens. But I can imagine a very specific type of child being interested in the portrait of an avid reader from long ago.
The construction of the book was needlessly repetitive – honestly I’ve never seen a book constructed this way before. The book did do a good job of showing Jane as a person instead of a mysterious genius icon. And the illustrations are lovely. Die-hard adult Austen fans will enjoy the details about Jane’s early life and younger children might be attracted to the portrait of a little girl who loves to play and read.