When she was a little girl, Beatrix Potter had lots of pets. At one time or another, she and her younger brother Bertram kept a frog, a lizard, a ring-snake, a tortoise, mice, a hedgehog and a rabbit, among others. They also had an extensive butterfly and insect collection, not to mention various dogs and in all likelihood cats who were considered household rather than nursery pets.
Born in London in 1866, Beatrix was educated at home where the creatures in her menagerie served as objects of naturalist studies, drawing models, and sources of inspiration for stories and imaginary friendships. Her family spent summers in Scotland and later in England's Lake District, where the children had the chance to roam around the local farms, woods and meadows.
A childhood immersed in nature produced the writer and artist now known to us as the bestselling children's book author of all time. Beatrix Potter's books are treasures still, and remain as fresh, funny, thrilling and beautiful as ever. She is a master of suspense (those bunnies barely escape Mr. McGregor's clutches again and again); of mystery (who, or rather what is Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle?); and of humor (note Sir Isaac Newton the newt in his black and gold waistcoat). So accustomed are we to animal characters prancing about the pages of picture books that we tend to forget that they never did so before Beatrix Potter invented the genre.
She left us her wonderful stories, and another naturalist legacy besides. With the profits of her book sales Beatrix Potter bought a great deal of farmland, and bequeathed 4,000 acres to British National Trust, now preserved as part of the Lake District National Park. This story is told in a brilliant film about her life and work, Miss Potter starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor. We think it's a must-see for parents.
And for kids, Beatrix Potter's books are must-reads. Let the beauty of her pictures and her deep connection to nature remind us all how enlivening it is for children to have contact with animals and insects, gardens, forests, ponds and meadows. Time to say yes to that pet your kids have been clamoring for!
The world of Beatrix Potter can come as a bit of a shock in our kinder, gentler era of child-rearing and children's books. The rabbits here don't spend much time on games like "Guess How Much I Love You." Rather, Peter is dubbed "very naughty" from the book's beginning, and, in Potter-land, naughty bunnies get their due (in this case, a dose of camomile tea—at least Peter escapes the switch, unlike his naughty contemporaries, Tom Kitten and Benjamin Bunny). Yet naughty bunnies also get to have all of the adventures, and what a thrilling adventure this is! Full of the radish feasts and hair-breadth escapes that have kept children riveted since the book's publication in 1902. With its utterly beautiful illustrations and delightful cadences, Peter Rabbit is, more than a century later, still a must in any child's library.
Here is a classic and hilarious tale of domestic disturbance—of the dollhouse variety, that is. Does it seem right to you that two lifeless dolls should have a luxurious home filled with every creature comfort, while the local mice must make do with a barren little hole in the wall? The naughty mice of this story think not. The story of how they avail themselves of the dollhouse's furnishings for their own purposes is as funny and charming as can be. These mice can appreciate the value of a cozy home, and teach a thing or two about taking care of one!
Rabbit Ears: Stories by Beatrix Potter (audiobook)
Who better to read the classic, ever exciting stories of Beatrix Potter than Meryl Streep? She brings Peter Rabbit and company to life like no one else can. And captures the elegance of Potter's diction to perfection. A real listening treat. (Note: books are not included.)
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