Just Imagine

The Brontës

Authored by Anna Doherty
Illustrated by Anna Doherty
Published by Wren and Rook

I wonder if I should give what appears to be the full title of this picturebook biography:

 The fantastically feminist

(and totally true) story of the




That is a fair summary of the book and its subjects. This is a beautifully designed, thoughtfully set out biography that begins with a very inclusive family tree, pets and all. Labelled illustrations move us through key events from the early childhood of the Brontë children. Young readers might be shocked to read of the conditions at Cowan Bridge school, where four of the Brontë children were educated until two of the girls fell fatally ill. Such insights make the book a suitable complement to any studies of Victorian childhood and schooling.

Tales of Glass Town, the imaginary world created by Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and Branwell provide a welcome, fanstasy-fuelled flight from the stark world of Victorian schooling.  It’s here that the genesis of literary creation is drawn out: the plays, stories, poems, maps and illustrations inspired first by Glass Town and then by further imagined worlds – including  Emily and Anne’s kingdom of Gondial, a land ruled by powerful women.  The twin themes of the book are set out here in a suitably messy rendition of a buzzing playroom.

The book carries on, from daydreaming and working as teachers, through secretive writing sessions, to publication of the Brontës’ classic works. All of this is rendered in muted tones: a suitably Victorian bronze-green and then various shades of grey. Characters’ facial expressions do much of the storytelling; my particular favourite is a very angry, possibly embarrassed Emily, flushing darker grey at a pivotal invasion of privacy.

Once these all too short lives are brought to a close, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne are given a page each for particulars and peculiarities to be shared.  Like many other good picturebook biographies, this illuminating volume closes with a more conventional, prose-based account of these singular offspring.  It is here that the importance of the Brontës’ contribution to literature, and the repressive context they rallied against is made clear to perhaps bewilder or enrage, but certainly to inspire our own young writers.