BOOK CLUB Children

Pitter, patter, Potter on

“Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were — Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.

They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir tree…”

So began the story of a naughty rabbit named Peter. First published in 1902, it was told by Beatrix Potter. The story was fashioned after her pet rabbits: Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper.

Furry muses

Both rabbits were extraordinary pets. Benjamin Bouncer enjoyed buttered toast and journeyed with the Potter family for holidays in Scotland, where he was taken for walks on a leash. Peter Piper, on the other hand, used to perform tricks and accompanied Beatrix everywhere.

Helen Beatrix Potter was born on July 28, 1866, in Kensington, London, U.K. Her brother, Walter Bertram, was six years younger than her. Both children loved to draw and paint, and spent hours making sketches of their many pets, which included lizards, snakes and bats.

Beatrix never went to school. Instead, her parents hired an art teacher and governess to see to her education. Of the long line of governesses, it was Annie Moore’s friendship she maintained.

Her lack of formal education did not hold her back. She was invited to study fungi at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew. Here, she produced detailed botanical drawings and investigated their cultivation and growth. She was a scientific illustrator. She went on to write a paper on fungi, and though it was never published, continues to be acknowledge as a great contribution to mycological research.

Her nature sketches led to the publication of greeting cards for a publisher, followed by more illustrations and verses for Changing Pictures, a popular annual. This created in her a desire to publish her own illustrated stories.

Her story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was a picture letter she had sent to Annie Moore’s son, Noel. She sent this to several publishers but was rejected by every one. So, in 1901, she decided to publish it herself. She did an initial print run of 250 copies meant only for family and friends. The book was an instant success. Frederick Warne & Co., who had initially turned her down, reconsidered its decision, provided she did her illustrations in colour.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Some of her books

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin

The Tailor of Gloucester

The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck

The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies

The Tale of the Two Bad Mice

The Tale of Pigling Bland

The Story of Miss Moppet

Trivia

  • In 1903, after the success of her first book, she made her own Peter Rabbit doll and registered it at the Patent Office. She realised the importance of merchandising long before it became popular.
  • In 1897, she could not present her paper “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae”, as she was a woman and hence not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society. The paper was presented on her behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens.
  • Her stories have been translated into 35 languages and sold over 100 million copies.
  • A publisher named Jo Hanks found references to a story in an out-of-print biography of Potter. He searched through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and found it in 2013. In 2016, it hit the stands as The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots.
  • Between 1881 and 1897, Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code. It was so difficult that it was only in 1958, that it could be cracked and translated.
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Printable version | Sep 27, 2020 10:47:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/children/pitter-patter-potter-on/article32145582.ece

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