This week Britain remembers the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen, one of the most well loved and best respected writers. I remember my first full Austen, ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and my surprise that this book was actually ‘readable’; it was approachable, riveting, funny and relevant.
Earlier, I had read an abridged version of ‘Mansfield Park’ that my sister-in-law’s parents had sent me from England. It was in a Christmas annual. I read the annual, but especially that book, repeatedly. I was captivated by the trials of Fanny Price, and the twists and turns of the Bertram family and the secondary characters.
Jane Austen is cited as being the first feminist writer, but as Devoney Looser of the Los Angeles Review of Books urges, ‘you have to compare her characters.’ Fanny Price, in ‘Sense and Sensibility‘ was caught in virtual feminine servitude, while in ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ Elizabeth Bennett dared to assert herself, think and learn. Devoney Looser suggests Jane Austen is a ‘safe, feminist rebel’.
The publication, earlier this year, of ‘Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls’ by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, was accompanied by a much-viewed video. It showed librarians removing titles from a children’s library shelves that were written by men or featured male heroes. Like other viewers, I was offended that so few books with female authors and protagonists remained. However, nearly two months into Bookwagon, and I take issue with the authors’ message.
- It should not be a battle. We learn from each other. Gender is not a war;
- Female writers are not underrepresented in children’s literature;
- Female protagonists are not underrepresented in children’s literature;
- There is no male hierarchy when it comes to heroes/heroines in quality children’s literature.
Further, I realise Bookwagon books frequently feature heroes/heroines who realise their strengths during their story, and we accompany them on that quest. Often, these protagonists do not work alone, but are supported by clever, championing collaborators.
Shortly a new £10.00 note with a photoshopped image of Jane Austen will be part of British currency. The woman who suggested Jane Austen deserved this role in our lives, received death threats for this recommendation.
Jenny Colgan, gentle writer of ‘Polly and the Puffin’ received a tirade of abuse when she appeared on Radio 5 Live to discuss the revelation of Jodie Whittaker as the first female ‘Doctor Who‘. Jenny, who has penned storylines for the series, was left staggered the level of anger. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1IczjLYCIM
I suggest that the quality of children’s literature that abounds in Britain and internationally, must be accessible to all children. They need to be immersed in books and love reading. They deserve properly funded, professionally staffed local libraries and quality, independent bookshops, with booksellers who love and know their books.
Reading widely and well, through a range of situations with a variety of protagonists, written by many different writers, enables children to grow into informed, intelligent, sociable, educated citizens. As Jane Austen said, ‘The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’
Meanwhile, we recommend these quality books for reading heroes and heroines (all prize Bookwagon titles):-
‘Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion’ Alex T. Smith
‘How to Find Gold’ Viviane Schwarz https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/how-to-find-gold/
‘Wild’ Emily Hughes https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/wild/
‘Operation Bunny; The Fairy Detective Agency‘ Sally Gardner https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/fairy-detective-agency-operation-bunny/
‘Arthur, High King of Britain‘- Michael Morpurgo (and the other histories, in this wonderful collection) https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/michael-morpurgo-myths-legends-collection/
‘Beetle Boy‘- M.G. Leonard https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/beetle-boy/
‘Cogheart‘- Peter Bunzl https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/cogheart/
‘Wolf Hollow‘- Lauren Wolf https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/wolf-hollow/
‘The Girl Who Walked on Air‘- Emma Carroll https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/girl-walked-air/
‘Flora & Ulysses‘- Kate DiCamillo https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/flora-ulysses/
‘The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow‘- Katherine Woodfine (Sinclair Mysteries series) https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/mystery-clockwork-sparrow/
‘Journey to the River Sea’– Eva Ibbotson https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/journey-river-sea/
‘Cowgirl‘- G.R. Gemin https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/cow-girl/
‘Defender of the Realm‘- Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/defender-of-the-realm/
‘Shackleton’s Journey‘- William Grill https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/shackletons-journey/
‘The Wolves of Currumpaw‘- William Grill https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/the-wolves-of-currumpaw/
‘The Wolf Wilder‘- Katherine Rundell https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/the-wolf-wilder/
‘The Witch’s Boy‘- Kelly Barnhill https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/the-witchs-boy/
‘Mold and the Poison Plot’– Lorraine Gregory https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/mold-poison-plot/
‘The Jamie Drake Equation‘- Christopher Edge https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/jamie-drake-equation/
‘The Apprentice Witch’– James Nichol https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/the-apprentice-witch/
‘Looking at the Stars‘- Jo Cotterill https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/looking-at-the-stars/
‘Maggot Moon‘- Sally Gardner https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/maggot-moon/
‘Orbiting Jupiter‘- Gary D. Schmidt https://bookwagon.co.uk/product/orbiting-jupiter/ ‘Bronnie