‘These lively, attractive little volumes are ideal. Charmingly presented and skilfully written, they capture the flavour and tone of Jane Austen’s peerless craft while simplifying the narrative and dialogue. Even as a purist, I think these Real Reads are a Real Help for the younger, novice reader.”
Josephine Ross, author of Jane Austen: A Companion
When my daughter was young, we began a tradition of “Girlie Movie Nights” (when Daddy was away), trimming bonnets, watching Jane Austen films and eating chocolate (if you ask her today, she’ll still insist with solemn assurance that “chocolate is good for girls”.) Once she began to read fluently, I looked for a way to share the same stories with her in a form she could read for herself.
I considered the popular “illustrated classics” series, but found the illustrations a bit dated. I was, therefore, completely delighted when I discovered Real Reads, a series that focuses on classic literature, retelling it in a simplified way, easy for children to understand and yet maintaining the tone of the original. In each book, be it Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare or some other “classic”, the authors (in this case Gill Tavner) condense the story and “extras” into 64 full color pages. Each book is lavishly illustrated (the Austen books are drawn by Ann Kronheimer) in a fun, watercolor style. Naturally, I purchased all six Austen titles!
The stories begin with an illustrated cast of characters, followed by the “meat” of the novel, and finally a section called “Taking Things Further”. Here is where the series really shines. First you are given “The Real Read”, a paragraph about the original novel, and where to find it. Secondly, a section entitled “Filling in the Blanks”, for as they say in the book,
“The loss of so many of Jane Austen’s original words is a sad but necessary part of the shortening process. We have to make some difficult decisions, omitting subplots, and details, some important, some less so, but all interesting. We have also, at times, taken the liberty of combining two events into one, or of giving a character words or actions that originally belong to another. The points below will fill in some of the gaps, but nothing can beat the original…”
At this point several pages are given to a bullet point list of additional plots and subplots in the novels. Following this section is an essay on the original novel in light of its place in time and in Jane Austen’s life. As an adult, I found these very interesting and readable.
Not content to leave the book there, the author then added “Finding Out More”, with a list of additional reading sources (most of them biographies and additional works of Jane Austen) websites (including the Jane Austen Centre!) and films.
The books finish with suggested reading group questions grouped under headings such as Characters, Themes and Style.
All in all, I was blown away by how much they were able to pack into these slim volumes. No, it’s not a substitute for Austen…in fact, in order to condense three volumes into an “easy reader”, some of the books depart from her plotlines (Emma is told by way of chapters sent between Jane and Cassandra, with Jane’s “letters” interspersed throughout. Pride and Prejudice begins with Darcy’s first proposal and then adds back story, Sense and Sensibility is told from Margaret’s perspective…) but they DO keep the story line intact by the end (more so, in fact, than some film adaptations!) and are a welcome departure from the “fluff” abounding in children’s literature these days! I would place the reading level at 8 and up, in a similar category as the American Girl books, and that type of early chapter book style.
Once our books arrived, they were immediately delved into. Imagine my delight in hearing my 7 year old daughter exclaim that she’d “already finished Mansfield Park today…” and wants to begin Emma next! She converses delightfully on characters and plot lines (in a way I can never get my husband to do…) and is looking forward to soon finishing Persuasion.
The entire Real Reads Jane Austen series can be difficult to find, but some are available in our online giftshop.
Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. A busy homeschooling mother of three, she is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, where she is able to indulge this passion by creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book.