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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Tales of Beatrix Potter

Can you believe that Easter Sunday is just four short days away? I tell you, whenever Easter falls in March, I think it screws all of us up. But, according to several sources, Easter can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. The earliest Easter I remember fell on March 26, and the latest I can recall was on April 24. It's one of those magical holidays that can fall anywhere within a five-week period, and occasionally, it can fall in March, as is the case for 2013.

With Easter fast approaching, I thought that I would use this blog space to speak about a subject that is loosely related to Easter-themed symbols and icons. Mind you, the books by today's featured author aren't quite Easter related, but there's enough symbolism present that I can do a fairly good job tying the two themes together.
And, as always, this post was actually inspired by a childhood memory.

You know how almost every fast food place in the world seems to have a children's menu complete with toys, games, and activities? I think I probably have explained this before, but one of the reasons why I hung around McDonald's so much in my youth was because of the lure of the McDonald's Happy Meals. It certainly wasn't because I liked the energy surrounding McDonald's, and it sure as heck wasn't because of the food (which, coincidentally I cannot stand these days). It was because of the wonderful toys and games and puzzles that were included within each Happy Meal. I amassed a small collection of these toys, and played with them almost every day in my youth.

Well, the promise of toys upon every visit wasn't limited to just fast food outlets in my store. There's a barbershop/salon chain in town that gives out free crayons and finger puppets, and I will be the first one to admit that if I weren't in my thirties, I would totally take advantage. There was a supermarket chain that existed years ago that helped me build a complete set of encyclopedias back in the day (which unfortunately are now twenty-five years out of date).

Believe it or not, even gas stations took advantage of offering up toys and games when people dropped by to fill up their cars with gas. And, one particular gas station had a series of books that were available to purchase for $2.99 each when you bought gasoline from them.

If memory serves me, it was the local Shell station (I only remember the name because there was another time in which they gave away Sesame Street figurines the year before), and there were twenty-three different pocket-size books available to buy. Because my family were very loyal to their friendly neighbourhood gas station, it took a lot of convincing to get them to drive out of the way to purchase gas from the Shell station just so they could have the chance to purchase the books for me. Even so, I didn't get the complete collection. If anything, I think I only ended up with a quarter of the books that were offered.

But, since that works out to approximately six books, I think it's enough to do a blog entry on the late children's author, Beatrix Potter.

Yes, there was a time in which Shell stations offered people a chance to read to their kids while filling their tanks with gas by selling Beatrix Potter books at the front checkouts. And, you know something, it was a brilliant idea. Growing up and reading the books, I'll be the first to admit that the books are classic tales with morals, lessons, and just a smidgen of humour, and I'll always have a soft spot for the literary works of Beatrix Potter.

Before I go ahead with the books that I have read of hers, why don't I give off a brief biography of Beatrix Potter.

She was born in Kensington, London, England, on July 28, 1866. She was raised in a Unitarian family, and much of the inspiration behind many of her books was influenced by her childhood. She and her brother had several small animals as pets, and Beatrix used to observe them very closely, even drawing up sketches of them. Her family also took frequent holidays to Scotland, and the English Lake District, which helped Beatrix grow to love the natural world.

Throughout her formative years, Beatrix Potter took private art lessons and was an all around good student, becoming skilled in languages, science, history, and literature. Over time, Beatrix experimented with several forms of illustrating, discovering that watercolour was what she liked working with best. After experiencing some great success from illustrating greeting cards, and booklets, she published the first of twenty-three books in 1901. At first, she had intended to publish the book privately, but within a year, she had inked a deal with Frederick Warne & Co. to have the book circulated as a small three-colour illustrated book to the public. Over the next twenty years, she would have several works published, and she would also use the money to purchase several English farms in the hopes of preserving the countryside she grew to love. In fact, her love for the countryside was so great that upon her death on December 22, 1943, she left her entire fortune to the National Trust, which used the money to preserve most of the land that makes up the Lake District National Park in England.

So, let's talk about some of the stories that helped Beatrix Potter become a star of the literary world. Of the 23 original works that she wrote, I read and owned five of them. And, what better way to illustrate the tales of Beatrix Potter than talking about my own personal experiences with them.


This was Beatrix Potter's first book, and as it so happens, it was the book that introduced me to the world of Beatrix Potter. Of course, everyone has heard of the various tales, songs and stories that have been told about Peter Rabbit, but in Potter's version, Peter Rabbit is one naughty bunny. And, right off the bat, the story begins on a disturbing note as we are introduced to the Rabbit family. Let's see...there's a mother rabbit, and her babies (Peter and his sisters)...but no father. Turns out that Father Bunny's fate was a gruesome one. While he was out gathering food for the family, he was trapped by Mr. McGregor, and baked into a pie and eaten!

As I said, disturbing.

Anyway, Peter's mother warns the children not to go anywhere near Mr. McGregor's garden, but the temptation of fresh carrots, delicious lettuce, and savoury herbs proved to be too much for Peter to resist, and he snuck into the garden against his mother's wishes only for him to almost become the next victim of Mr. McGregor's serial killing spree.

INTERESTING FACT: The book was created based on a letter that four-year-old Noel Moore written in September 1893, which asked Potter to create a story that starred a rabbit named Peter. This book was so successful that it has been translated into thirty-six different languages, and has sold 45 million copies since it was first published in 1902, making it one of the best-selling books of all time.


This book was Beatrix Potter's third, and the main character was a tailor (obviously). He sends his cat, Simpkin out to town to purchase some food, as well as cherry-coloured silk needed to fashion a waistcoat to be worn by the mayor on his Christmas Day wedding. But while Simpkin is gone, the tailor discovers that the mischievous cat has imprisoned several mice underneath various teacups, and lets them go. When Simpkin discovers what the tailor has done, he plays a little game of hide-and-seek with the cherry-coloured silk that the tailor needs to finish the coat!

To add to the stress, the tailor falls ill just days before the wedding, and he is worried that he won't be able to finish the coat. But when he gets help from an unexpected source, he (and Simpkin) realize the value of friendship, and all turns out well.

INTERESTING FACT: According to Beatrix Potter, this book was one of her favourites to create. I can see why. This book happens to be one of my favourite Beatrix Potter books too!


Book number nine in the series sort of reads like an animal version of the Highlights Magazine feature “Goofus and Gallant”. In this book, we're introduced to a pair of rabbits...a good, kind, Gallant rabbit, and a fierce, bad, Goofus rabbit. In all honesty, this is a perfect book to illustrate the battle between good and bad, and it also shows the comeuppances one might face if they stay fiercely bad for far too long. The Gallant Rabbit is happy at the very beginning of the book. His mother has given him a nice, yummy carrot to snack on. Unfortunately, Goofus Rabbit didn't get his carrot allowance (likely because he was bad at home), and he decides that he wants Gallant Rabbit's carrot, even resorting to violence by way of scratching him badly. But, if you think that Goofus Rabbit gets away with his mugging, a hunter with a gun proves otherwise.

SPOILER ALERT: Don't worry. Goofus Rabbit doesn't bite the big one...but he loses more than just his face...


Jemima Puddle-Duck is the star of Potter's twelfth book, and in this tale, Jemima wants to hatch her own eggs, but the wife of the farmer who owns the land that Jemima calls home doesn't think that a duck is capable of being a good sitter, and she snatches the duck eggs and places them in the hen house so that the hens can hatch them instead. So she straps on a poke bonnet and ventures away from the farm so she can hatch them herself on her own terms. An independent woman...I like that.

But what happens when she comes across a stranger who tells Jemima everything to get her to trust him, only for him to be proven as a wolf fur? Will anyone be able to help her and her eggs? It's a classic tale of pursuit and prey, and the story is filled with so many twists and turns that you never know how it will go until you reach the end.

INTERESTING FACT: The book remains one of Potter's most famous works, and it inspired the creation of an original Jemima Puddle-Duck doll complete with a bonnet and shawl. One can only imagine how much a mint-condition original doll would go for in auction these days!


This was one of the last books created in the original twenty-three book series, and it is essentially a retelling of the classic Aesop fable “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse”. The story actually doesn't start with the introduction of Johnny Town-Mouse though. We're instead introduced to Timmy Willie, the country mouse who ends up on a one-way ticket to the city after falling asleep in a hamper of vegetables after gorging on a feast of peas.

Somehow, Timmy Willie finds himself at a dinner party hosted by Johnny Town-Mouse, who invites Timmy to stay with him for a while. Later in the series, Johnny Town-Mouse pays a visit to Timmy out in the country. Though both mice didn't have a lot of fun away from home, they did seem to form a friendship. The story gives perfect meaning to the phrase “It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there”.

And, those are just five of the stories that Beatrix Potter told. Although I only owned five of the twenty-three books, I did eventually read all twenty-three books through libraries, online resources, and other sources. And, if one day I become a father, I will seek these books out to read to my kids because they are absolute perfection in my eyes.

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