cover image The Little Books of the Little Brontës

The Little Books of the Little Brontës

Sara O’Leary, illus. by Briony May Smith. Tundra, $18.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-7352-6369-7

In a deeply sensitive work, O’Leary (Gemma and the Giant Girl) and Smith (The Mermaid Moon) focus on the diminutive volumes that Charlotte, Anne, Emily, and Branwell Brontë made for each other as children living in austere circumstances. Readers gaze through the window of a parsonage on the moors as Charlotte makes a book for sister Anne on pages “the size of Anne’s hand”—in this work, Anne’s parents are wealthy, and everything “ends happily.” Mention of the real-world deaths of the Brontës’ mother and two older sisters is followed by an affirmation of those who remain: “their father, their aunt, and a housekeeper named Tabby. They have many pets. They have each other.” The children read everything in the house, invent endless stories for one another, and create books just the right size for their toy soldiers. Mixed-media spreads in muted, autumnal shades visually contrast themes of inner creative fire and outer quiet, as in one spread that reveals dramatic shadows behind the nightgowned children playacting by lamplight. Intimate, thoughtful writing sets the little books in context, seeing them as a response to the family’s isolation: “The books they wrote are tiny, but the worlds inside them are huge.” Characters are portrayed with pale skin. Back matter concludes. Ages 5–9. (Oct.)