Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig is a fictionalized account of a truly unfortunate incident in Beatrix’s life, based on her diary entries. Welcome Deborah Hopkinson to My Learning Life today as she shares a little about her research into Beatrix’s life.
Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (February 2, 2016)
This year, we celebrate the sesquicentennial of Beatrix Potter (1866-1943), a fascinating woman of many talents and interests. She was a keen observer of plants and animals, an expert in mycology, and, in her later years, a committed conservationist who bred Herdwick sheep and left her estate to Great Britain’s National Trust. And, of course, Beatrix Potter was the beloved creator of classic, timeless books for children, including The Tale of Peter Rabbit, first published in 1902.
Although many aspects of Potter’s life might lend themselves to a picture book, I wanted to find a story that celebrated her love of animals and of art. When I visit schools around the country, I love to hear from students about the books or art projects they’re undertaking. So I think young readers will be especially excited to know that the creator of Peter Rabbit, like them, began practicing her craft as a girl. (And, of course, as the title, Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, suggests, there is also the reminder that even for famous and accomplished artists, sometimes things go wrong.)
I was especially intrigued in my research by Beatrix’s journal, which she wrote in a code she invented herself. Fortunately, after her death, the journal was decoded and transcribed by Leslie Linder, and was published in 1966. In it, Beatrix describes a series of rather hilarious pet disasters, since she and her little brother Bertie kept quite a menagerie in their London home. My book is a fictionalized treatment rather than a biography, but it does include some actual quotations from her journal.
My book tells the story of one specific disaster, when Beatrix borrowed a guinea pig from a neighbor so that she could sketch it. To tell the story, I decided to use the format of a “picture letter,” reminiscent of the one Beatrix wrote to Noel Moore, the son of her former governess, which became the inspiration for her Peter Rabbit book. In my book, we begin by addressing the reader, and end with a P.S – the author’s note, which includes photographs of Beatrix and an image showing her famous picture letter which introduced to Noel – and later the world – the four most famous rabbits of all time. (You know their names.)
I often incorporate writing activities in my school visit presentations, and can’t wait to work on creating picture letters with students to see what stories they have to tell.
Another special aspect of this book is the art. Acclaimed British artist Charlotte Voake’s watercolors are subtle, wry, and humorous. The book will be published in Great Britain in July, to coincide with Beatrix Potter’s birthday on July 28. For more Beatrix Potter special events, follow the hashtag #Beatrix150 on Twitter.
Thanks again to Deborah Hopkinson for appearing. For other stops on the Beatrix Blog Tour please check deborahhopkinson.com.
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of nearly 50 books for young readers. Her middle grade novel, A Bandit’s Tale, The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket, a Junior Library Guild selection, will be released in April. Follow her on Twitter @deborahopkinson.
©2016 by Dawn Little for My Learning Life. All Amazon links are affiliate links and may result in my receiving a small commission. This is at no additional cost to you.