November 01, 2023

The Little Books of the Little Brontës

Written by Sara O'Leary
Illustrated by Briony May Smith
Tundra Books
40 pp.
Ages 5-9
October 2023
This is the story of four siblings who lived about 200 years ago. Their names were Charlotte, Bramwell, Emily, and the youngest was Anne. After their mother had died, as well as their two older sisters, they lived with their father, their Aunt Bramwell, a housekeeper named Tabby, and many pets. And they loved to read and tell stories.
From The Little Books of the Little Brontës, written by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Briony May Smith
They read everything they could, from novels and poetry, to geography, the dictionary, and the Bible. And when they weren't reading, they were making up stories, creating characters, and acting out plays. And they wrote their own little books to share with each other. What a special gift to have a sister who would paint pictures and hand-stitch pages and give their lives a happily-ever-after. When Bramwell received a set of toy soldiers, which he shared with his sisters, they created even smaller books that would fit into the hands of the toy soldiers. These books were tiny but the worlds within were colossal.
They contain continents and oceans, love stories and battles. There are heroes and antiheroes. And sometimes those who die in one story are brought back to life in another.
Their little books and their stories sustained them and inspired them all to write, taking them to new worlds.
From The Little Books of the Little Brontës, written by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Briony May Smith
The Little Books of the Little Brontës is not necessarily an illustrated biography of the four Brontë siblings though it does contain key biographical information about their home, the people in their lives, and their occupation with writing and books. But Sara O'Leary has not written this picture book to tell their biographies. She has written it to speak to the power of storytelling and the imagination to sustain us through challenges. There is much still left to tell of the Brontës' stories but those details can just as easily be discovered through research. Like the power of the Brontës' stories, Sara O'Leary takes the reader to see a different world, one in which travel to unknown places is possible, in which struggles are won, and in which lives may be happier, easier, and more exciting. That's the true story of the stories that the Brontës told. Their stories comforted them and fostered their creativity.

Briony May Smith, a British illustrator, uses mixed media to take us into the long-ago world of the Brontë children. She gives their world both historical accuracy but a sweetness of siblings reliant on each other for support and love. The softness of her pencil and digital media take away the austerity of the Brontës' lives and makes them rich in family and togetherness and, of course, literary creativity.
From The Little Books of the Little Brontës, written by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Briony May Smith
I have reviewed a number of Sara O'Leary's earlier books (including When I Was Small, 2011; A Family is a Family, 2016; Night Walk, 2020; and  Percy's Museum, 2021) and, regardless of the story, there is a gentleness in her storytelling. It's in the choice of her words and the structure of her phrasing and in the choices she makes to tell or not tell. The timeline that appends The Little Books of the Little Brontës cannot help but speak to the losses the Brontës experienced in their short lives–the four who are featured in this book all passed in their 20s or 30s–but, though Sara O'Leary mentions the loss of the children's mother and their older sisters, she makes this story about the wonders of books and storytelling.

The Little Books of the Little Brontës will surely inspire young readers to delve a little deeper into the history of the Brontës but also to create their own little books–instructions provided–and find the wonder in making worlds for themselves and others.
From The Little Books of the Little Brontës, written by Sara O'Leary, illustrated by Briony May Smith


  1. Thank you, Helen. It's always a pleasure to be reviewed by you!

    1. I'm so pleased. Your book left me feeling calm and inspired.

    2. That was me, Sara. Don't know why it posted it as Anonymous, though I suspect it will do the same here. (Helen)

    3. Yes, I thought it was you! Thanks again--the reactions to this have been very nice online.

  2. I just read this book yesterday. I adore it, beautifully told and lovingly illustrated. A must-have for my children's bookshelf. Congratulations, Sara O'Leary. — Monica Kulling