Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Beatrix Potter

Ah, where to begin . . . where to begin?!  You must introduce author/illustrator Beatrix Potter to your child as early as possible.  If you don't own Peter Rabbit, I'm urging you to give a copy to your little one before the year is out!  I'm quite serious!  Every child should own a copy of this classic.  In sharing Potter's tales with your children, you will be sharing a literary legacy.  I have several different printings of Beatrix Potter's tales, and I'll have to honestly say that the best edition to get is the original 4.4 x 5.6 Warne publishing which has been renewed several times over (yes, I'm downright giddy that Warne & Co. still holds the publishing rights).  Children love holding this size in their hands most of all.

I can't speak enough for Potter's enchanting, life-like watercolor illustrations.  She perfects each animal's anatomy before she personifies it with story and clothes.  It's as if Peter just hopped from the garden onto the page or Tom Kitten has just pawed his way onto the book cover.  I never eat green peas without thinking of the mouse's inability to direct Peter to safety, hindered by the large pea in her mouth.  Every time I see a tailless squirrel, I think of Squirrel Nutkin's impudence to old Mr. Brown owl.  And before my eldest knew of hide-and-go-seek, she hid from us squealing, "I'm running from Mr. McGregor!  I'm running from Mr. McGregor!"

I've sat here and thought and thought and thought only to arrive at the fact that I'm not quite sure which charming tale is my favorite.  I guess it would be Peter Rabbit and the follow-up Benjamin Bunny.  However, I do love the tales of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Mrs. Tittlemouse, and the Two Bad MiceThe Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse is a delightful retelling of the town mouse and the country mouse.  The kids especially like the last two mentioned and The Tale of Pigling Bland (in addition to Peter Rabbit).  My husband and I double-over laughing each time we read The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit!  It's the most random of Potter's tales (though I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for the kids).  Potter writes her version of the elves and the shoe peddler in The Tailor of Gloucester, a perfect Christmas tale for this time of year.  But really, I could list all of them in one way or another.  Instead, let me give you the complete listing of Potter's books at the end of this post.  Check them out and share with us which tale your family likes best!
This beautiful edition is available at abebooks.com.

If you'd like to know more about Beatrix Potter's life, do take the time to check out the blog Happy Homemaker UK.  Laura gives a lovely summary of Beatrix Potter, complete with beautiful photographs.  She's compiled quite a lot of research in just a few lines, making her bio on Beatrix Potter interesting to read, not to mention that I'm quite envious of her visits to Potter's childhood home and the Beatrix Potter exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

One more thing I found fascinating, most can deduce Potter's love for nature after seeing her detailed watercolored subjects.  What you may not guess is that she's helped to preserve the Lake District in England by her conservation efforts and by willing land and farms to the British National Trust. 

I'm so taken with Beatrix Potter and her tales, that we have Peter Rabbit paraphernalia all around our home.  In addition to several stuffed Potter characters and porcelain piggy banks, I rediscovered Wedgewood's Peter Rabbit bowl, plate, and cup, wherein I quickly grabbed a set for each child in a nostalgic flurry to pass on those sweet memories to my brood (I had a bowl, plate, and cup as a child).  Daily my children eat several meals in full view of old Mrs. Rabbit as she readies Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter for their day.

Also, take advantage of one of my favorite links: these color pages from the various tales to download for your children to color.

In closing, this is the first (and may be the last) time I've recommended a movie.  However, the BBC has done a brilliant job with the Potter tales, keeping the animation true to the original text and illustrations.   Each series begins with a human Beatrix Potter character writing a letter to the recipient of her next tale, briefly explaining her artistic process before segueing into the animation.  So if you need a way to bring Beatrix Potter's tales into your home while you're getting dinner on the table, check out the BBC videos.

I firmly believe your family will find Beatrix Potter's tales some of your favorite reads.  Ours certainly has.
Available at abebooks.com

The Tale of Peter Rabbit (c. 1901, 1902)
The Tailor of Gloucester (1902, 1903)
The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903)
The Tale of Benjamin Bunny (1904)
The Tale of Two Bad Mice (1904)
The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-WInkle (1905)
The Pie and the Patty-pan (1905)
The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher (1906)
The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit (1906)
The Story of Miss Moppet (1906)
The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907)
The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck (1908)
The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908) = The Tale of Samuel Whiskers (1926)
The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909)
Available at abebooks.com
Ginger and Pickles (1909)
The Tale of Mrs. Tittlemouse (1910)
The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911)
The Tale of Mr. Tod (1911)
The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)
Appley Dappley's Nursery Rhymes (1917)
The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918)
Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes (1922)
The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930)


  1. To think taking scientifically correct drawings of animals, putting a bonnet on them, and have them be human-like was considered extraordinary at the time. She was such a pioneer. Thanks to her, it now seems 'normal'!

    My mother-in-law introduced me to these books when I was in my 20s. They are so wonderful.

    Thank you for the nice reference ;)

  2. Truly classic! My children loved the tales and now my granddaughter is enjoying their Beatrix Potter books, despite being a litte dog-eared, and Peter Rabbit Wedgewood dishes.
    When my eldest was about 18months old and we had just returned from a trip to the family cottage in the country, she came to me saying "Timmy Willy", over and over. At first, I thought she wanted me to read the story. It took two days for me to figure out that she was saying Timmy Willy because a mouse had jumped into the laundry hamper at the cottage and we had unknowingly transported it with us to the city.
    Fortunately there was no Johnny Townmouse to meet with at our house in the city but unfortunately, Timmy Willy met his demise shortly after I discovered him!
    Out of all the classic Beatrix Potters tales, our personalized Timmy Willy story has become a favourite in our family.

  3. Oh, I love this story! I'll always think of it when I read Johnny Townmouse!

  4. A fabulous post, Emily. Beatrix Potter is a treasured companion on Planet Baby. We have the boxed sets - you're right about their being the perfect size. Other valued BP possessions in our family are the BP cross-stitched birth samplers I've made for the three pixies as well as her alphabet sampler. And now to check out sweet Laura's old posts! J x