Well, here is a blog post I never thought I would write: a comparison of board book adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. I have already written about the Pride and Prejudice Counting Primer, part of the BabyLit series, and to be honest, I was not very nice about it. But now we have the Cozy Classics, which approaches Pride and Prejudice from the angle of another staple of board books–the concept book (if someone is already hard at work at a Pride and Prejudice ABC’s, then the board book trifecta would be complete.) Putting aside my own feelings about creating board books from classics, how do these adaptations stack up against each other? How much prior knowledge of the original does a reader need to appreciate these books? If you want your baby to love Jane Austen, which should you chose?
Let’s start by comparing the covers.
The BabyLit primer shows a doe-eyed Lizzy on the front, sporting an embroidered “I ❤ Darcy” dress. It’s cutesy, and grates in the same way an “I’m the Boss” t-shirt on a toddler makes me question the future of the human race. On the other hand, the Cozy Classics shows a picture of a needle-felted Lizzy (already implying a level of craftsmanship invested in the book,) running across a field with a muddy hem and a hand to prevent her hat from blowing away. Anyone familiar with Pride and Prejudice (which the average board book reader is not) will recognize this as a pivotal scene from the book. While drawing the scorn of Caroline Bingley, this incident stirs the first inkling of attraction in Mr. Darcy’s bosom. So before a book has even been opened, first point goes to the Cozy Classics for establishing that they are taking Pride and Prejudice seriously and not just leaving a trail of in-jokes and knowing nods for the adult reader.
Although counting books and concept books are separate formats within the broader board book genre, focusing on different skills sets and developmental milestones in readers, these two books themselves can still be compared by the elements of Pride and Prejudice which each book chose to focus on. There is some overlap.
The Counting Primer presents us with “2 rich gentlemen”, conveniently identified as Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. There is not much to differentiate between them, except maybe to guess that Darcy is slightly richer and slightly more formal because he wears a top hat.
In the Cozy Classics, the very first word of the book is “friends.” There is no identification (in fact, not a single name is used throughout the book,) but the knowledgeable reader knows exactly who is who. (Also–managing to sneak in the famous first line–nice touch.) The choice of word and the conflicting personalities of the two men, so evident in the illustration, achieves a lot in setting the reader on the path of the story. This is further developed when the page is turned to reveal “sisters,” and Lizzie and Jane standing arm in arm. The reader understands that they, too, are friends, and that these two couples are the foundation upon which the book is built. Keeping strictly to a comparison as adaptations, point again goes to the Cozy Classics.
In fact, there really is no comparison; the Cozy Classics is the best, hands down. The book establishes that less is more, as long as the “less” is judiciously representative of the original. The 12 words selected to tell the story of Pride and Prejudice are twelve words common to board books already, with the obvious exception of “marry.” Once they are paired with the needle felted tableaus, which are quite attractive and must have required a lot of time and skill to create, the book kind of makes sense and reaches a level of interpretation which the counting primer, with it’s sly winks to the adult reader, does not.
Reading the Cozy P&P, I got the feeling that the authors were trying to do something new for board books as well as the Austen original. The “Little Miss Austen” (grrrr…..) P&P never rises above novelty.
You can question whether board book adaptations of classics will ever rise above novelty (I know I do.) But kudos to Cozy Classics for approaching the matter with style, thought, and care.