- Virginia Johnson
Over 100 years ago, Helen Beatrix Potter was born in London. Her family had plenty of money, but they were not truly happy. Lonely Beatrix lived upstairs in the nursery. She rarely saw her parents and was looked after by a nanny, who, although she was strict, did tell her marvelous fairy stories which she loved. Beatrix and her little brother were happiest when the family went on holidays (vacations) to the countryside. There the children were free to play outside and explore nature.
More than anything else, Beatrix liked to draw. She had some drawing lessons, but she found these were very boring. She was happy when they were over, and she could go back to drawing the way she liked best. Beatrix never went to school outside her home. She had a governess come in to teach her. This governess was almost the same age as her pupil, and they became as close as sisters. Beatrix was lonely when her governess left to get married, but she was also pleased that her friend had found someone to love her. The two remained very close friends.
Who Was Peter Rabbit?
Although other children were never allowed over to play, Beatrix was able to keep some very interesting pets, and she used them for her models. Later, they worked their way into her stories. The real Peter Rabbit was her constant companion. She would take him and other pets, a mouse named Hunca Munca and a hedgehog named Mrs. Tiggy, when she visited friends both in town and in the country. As time went on, Annie Moore, her former governess, had a large family who became very dear to Beatrix. She often wrote them letters when she was away from town. When young Noel Moore was very ill, Beatrix sent him a story with pictures about a rabbit named Peter. She also penned a story about a frog named Jeremy Fisher for his young brother, Eric. The children loved these tales, and, in a few years, Beatrix borrowed them back to turn them the first of her books.
Children then and now loved the little stories, and over the years, Beatrix made enough money so she could afford to live away from home. She bought a farm called Hill Top which you can still visit today. The animals on the farm and in the woods inspired her to write more stories, about a silly duck named Jemima, a nasty rat named Samuel Whiskers, and many others. When she was 47 years old, she married William Heelis who had helped her buy her beloved farm. Her parents were not happy, but Beatrix was, so that was that. As she spent more and more time with the farm, which she loved, she wrote fewer and fewer stories. But she always had time for her young readers and would answer their letters personally, often adding drawings to her words.
When Beatrix passed away in 1943 at the age of 77, she was a contented woman whose many books brought much joy to young readers. She had to stay indoors a great deal of time at the last, but she was comforted by her loving husband and the two clever Pekinese who modeled for her last story, also written for a young friend but never published, which was entitled The Chinese Umbrella.
Why Haven't the Stories Been Made into Films?
Walt Disney asked Beatrix for permission to make her books into films, but she wouldn't let him. She was afraid that her drawings were not good enough to be enlarged for the big screen in the movie theater. In 1971, Sir Frederick Ashton created an amazing ballet for film based on her characters called Tales of Beatrix Potter. Later, there were animated films which used drawings that very closely resembled her own. These films delighted her fans and won awards, too. Beatrix Potter's books are loved the world over and have been translated into over 30 languages, including Japanese, Scottish Gaelic, and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
Books About Beatrix
For Young Ones
Beatrix: Various Episodes from the Life of Beatrix Potter by Jeanette Winter.
Beatrix fits perfectly in small hands, exactly as the author intended her own books should. But rather than tell the tale of a naughty rabbit or kind-hearted mice, this is the true story of a lonely, bright little girl who certainly deserved and got her own happy ending.
My Dear Noel: The Story of a Letter from Beatrix Potter by Jane Johnson.
Peter Rabbit began as a story written to cheer up Beatrix's young friend, Noel Moore. This picture book is a perfect introduction to the story behind the story for fans of Peter Rabbit.
Tell Me About Beatrix Potter by John Malam.
This short biography has many photos of Beatrix, her family, and her furry friends. It includes an index and a timeline.
The Ultimate Peter Rabbit: A Visual Guide to the World of Beatrix Potter by Camilla Hallinan.
This beauty of a book has it all: photos of the author's favourite places, her drawings, a biography, and stories about the the stories.
For Experienced Readers
Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller and Countrywoman by Judy Taylor.
An in-depth look at the author's life, accompanied by many photographs and reproductions of her drawings. This book was the basis for a film featuring Lynn Redgrave, which is also available at the library.
The Tale of Beatrix Potter by Margaret Lane.
This biography, originally published in 1946, tells the story of the author's private life with great sympathy and has a very British tone. Margaret Lane was able to interview family members and friends to discover what Beatrix was really like. Also available in a large print edition.
The Tale of the Tales: The Beatrix Potter Ballet by Rumer Godden.
Ballet choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton succeeded in bringing Potter's characters to life and liveliness in a 1971 film that was later performed on stage. The production's meticulous artistry is chronicled herein.
Toys from the Tales of Beatrix Potter and How to Make Them by Margaret Hurchings.
Beatrix Potter herself saw the potential for turning her delightful characters into cuddly toys and created some that sold overseas. This lengthy book on toy-making also has instructions for matching baskets and furniture.
Peter Rabbit on the Web
The Beatrix Potter Society
A society for those who have an interest in the author's life and works. The society publishes and sells books and papers about the author. They have regular meetings in Britain and America. The site also recommends places to visit that are connected with the author.
The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends
This is the really big Beatrix Potter Web site. Has her biography and comments on her works. The Fun! section has crafts, colouring pages, ecards, wallpaper, and video clips. Listen and watch as five of her stories (in shortened form) are read aloud to you.