Today is the 238th birthday of one Miss Jane Austen, a 19th-century English novelist of some renown. It is possible you have heard of her.
I am sharing this information with you on a blog about advocating for literacy for all young people for reasons that may not seem immediately apparent. Sure, I LOVE JANE AUSTEN. So very much. But that’s not a good enough reason.
It would actually be more accurate to say that I love Jane Austen’s novels, and board book renditions of her novels, and zombified versions of her novels, and modernized versions of her novels. I listen to podcasts about Jane Austen. I take immense delight in reading Austen’s books and in continually seeking to find out more about them and to think of them in new ways.
I am sharing with you this important reminder about Jane Austen’s birthday because “delight” is a word that should never be too far from our work as advocates for storytime and literacy. What longterm good are we doing in storytime if everyone is miserable while there, or if we’re just going through the motions and hitting all the early literacy practices like robots? Isn’t it much better to foster an environment in which we invite children and their caregivers to delight in the experience of reading, and reading together, and talking about books? I want children to be as delighted about a book or story or finger play as I am about the works of A Lady. I hope you do, too. And for us to inspire that sort of delight in others, we need to embrace all of the things that delight us about reading as well.
Thus this post. Happy birthday, Jane! Thank you for wonderful novels that have inspired many readings and even more wonderful conversations between myself and friends, teachers, colleagues, and the occasional stranger. I would like to take this occasion, the anniversary of your birth, to send out a big thank you for all the delight that your literary contributions have added to my life.
And I encourage you, storytime guerrilla, to think about the literature that delights you. Talk about it with your friends and coworkers. Share it on Twitter. I did, and I got some rather delightful responses, including this terrific, made-up-on-the-spot, Pride and Prejudice-inspired finger play from Sara (@PLSanders):
Five enormous top hats on Mr. Darcy’s head.
One fell off when he asked Elizabeth to wed.
[repeat by counting down; no kissing noises at the end because THIS IS THE REGENCY PERIOD AND WE MUST ACT LIKE LADIES AND GENTLEMEN]
And then Sara pretty much dared me to make a flannel board or finger puppets to go with the rhyme, which I did, because I have an unladylike competitive streak:
All of this is to say, take delight in the reading you do and pass along the spirit of delight to the children you work with. It’s not profound, but it can definitely be a meaningful step toward developing a lifelong love of language and reading.
Also, attention all picture book authors and illustrators. Some combination of you needs to get to work on adapting the picnic at Box Hill scene from Emma into a picture book. It can feature bossy Emma, Missy Bates, and a message about why it’s important to always use kind words because you can hurt people’s feelings. This needs to happen now. You can thank me in the acknowledgements.