Canadian author Sara O’Leary and British illustrator Briony May Smith, both prolific in their own right, combine their talents to bring readers the achingly beautiful picture book The Little Books of the Little Brontës.
Opening with an introduction to a young Charlotte Brontë and her sister Anne, who live with their family in a house “on the edge of the wild moors,” readers are beckoned closer to see Charlotte in the midst of crafting a little book – full of big, happy ideas – for her littlest sibling. While the four Brontë children and their father have experienced the unimaginable pain of losing their mother and two older sisters to devastating illnesses, the remaining siblings – Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and brother Branwell – still have each other. They also have their aunt, their housekeeper, and many animal friends; they have their lessons and their time playing in the moors. But, perhaps most significantly, they have their love of books and stories. In a key moment, when their father brings home an assortment of toys, the Brontës are all immediately enraptured with a box of small wooden soldiers; so much so that they create miniature books for the soldiers, with “handwriting so small” that none of the adults in their lives are able to decipher the stories.
While the heart of the picture book focuses on the lives of the little Brontës as book-devouring, consistently inventive, inseparable siblings, O’Leary and Smith also show bittersweet future glimpses of the quartet as young adults who are never far from books or writing paper. Readers learn that “while their lives will not be long,” Charlotte, Emily, and Anne will all famously write acclaimed and beloved-to-this-day novels. We also catch sight of Branwell, a painter and writer, as he paints an iconic portrait of the four together. The Little Books of the Little Brontës is, in a word, gorgeous. A sublime blend of tender and thoughtfully playful writing by O’Leary, and bucolic, rosy-cheeked mixed media illustrations by Smith, this is an exceptional picture book. Be sure not to miss the back matter that includes a guide on “How to Make Your Own Little Book,” an author’s note, and more.