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'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' author-illustrator honored after 150 years

Posted January 16

Last July marked 150 years since the birth of children’s book author-illustrator Beatrix Potter, known for her classic tales about Peter Rabbit and other countryside critters.

Today, more than 2 million of her books are sold around the world each year, and Peter Rabbit is featured in stories and products in more than 110 countries, according to a news release from Penguin Random House.

Because Potter “established herself as one of the most cherished and significant author-illustrators of children’s literature” as the news release states, a compilation titled “A Celebration of Beatrix Potter” was created as a celebration of the 150th anniversary of her birth.

This collaboration is made up of creations by 32 of today’s “most lauded, award-winning artists as they reimagined characters from her tales,” according to the news release.

A Celebration of Beatrix Potter” ($25, Warne) hit shelves on Nov. 1, 2016, and is filled with work by “critically acclaimed illustrators” such as Tomie dePaola, E.B. Lewis, Paul O. Zelinsky, Judy Schachner and more. Excerpts from “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin,” “The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle,” “The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck,” “The Tale of Mr. Tod” and four others are included in the text.

According to the news release, Potter's interest in writing about and sketching plants and animals stemmed from her childhood, when she would spend her spare moments outside enjoying the countryside.

Potter had little real contact with her parents, which, according to the news release, was "typical of many middle-class young girls in the Victorian period. Her childhood was rather lonely, with few friends and only a governess for company. … She frequently returned from holiday with animals such as mice, rabbits, newts, caterpillars and birds, which formed an entire menagerie that lived in the schoolroom.”

When Potter died in 1943, she left thousands of acres of land and countryside to the care of the National Trust “to ensure that future generations would continue to enjoy the countryside that she was so passionate about, as well as the much-loved characters and stories that were created over a lifetime,” according to the news release.

Her influence can be seen in other children’s book author-illustrators. Rosemary Wells, author and illustrator of the Max & Ruby children’s book series, said that Potter’s work influenced her to choose small animals as characters in her own books.

“I remember being 8. I can see the slope of my own knees under the blanket on days when I was ill and could not go to school. On those occasions, I would ask for all the Potter books at once and read them in succession,” Wells wrote in “A Celebration of Beatrix Potter.”

In addition to the publication of “A Celebration of Beatrix Potter,” Potter’s original transcript of a never before published, original story, “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots” ($20, Warne), was rediscovered and went on sale in September 2016.

Illustrated by award-winning illustrator Quentin Blake, “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots” was “rediscovered two years ago when Jo Hanks, publisher at Penguin Random House Children’s, stumbled across an out-of-print literary history about Beatrix Potter from the early 1970s,” according to another news release from Penguin Random House.

“The tale really is the best of Beatrix Potter,” Hanks said in the news release. “It has double identities, colorful villains and a number of favorite characters from other tales (including Mr. Tod, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Ribby and Tabitha Twitchit). And, most excitingly, our treasured, mischievous Peter Rabbit makes an appearance — albeit older, slower and portlier.”

In other letters Hanks found, he discovered that Potter intended to finish the tale but was hit with interruptions and never went back to the story.

In addition to her publications, Potter “produced approximately 500 natural history drawings, botanical studies of fungi, mosses and lichens.” Although her research was not officially acknowledged by the scientific world until the 1990s, she also discovered the reproduction process of certain fungi, according to Penguin Random House.

According to the news release, “Beatrix Potter was a visionary and a trailblazer. Single-mindedly determined and ambitious, she overcame professional rejection, academic humiliation and personal heartbreak, going on to earn her fortune and a formidable reputation.”

Email: kschwab@deseretnews.com

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