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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

BEATRIX POTTER & The Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, written by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Charlotte Voake. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. 2016. $23.99 ages 6 and up

"Now we come to the heart of our story - the tale of the unfortunate guinea pig. Why Beatrix needed to borrow one is quite simple: while she enjoyed playing with her pets, her greatest joy came from painting them. Beatrix spent long hours sketching her animals. She liked to paint them doing ordinary, everyday things, like reading the newspaper ... "

Beatrix Potter always loved animals. As a young girl, she and her brother were proud caretakers to a large collection. Because of her affinity for drawing, she used those animals as models for the delicate watercolor images we so admire.

As she begins this lovely celebration of Beatrix Potter's life and work, Deborah Hopkinson gives us a clear accounting of her early life and the love that she had for many different species. There was a slight problem ... :

"Beatrix probably had more pets than any young lady in the city. But the sad truth is that although Beatrix loved animals, she did not always have the best of luck with them."
We meet some of the many animals who played a role in her early home life. Beatrix kept journals of the many mishaps that befell her beloved pets. About a family of snails, she wrote:

"An awful tragedy was discovered ... the whole Bill family, old Bill and Mrs. Little Bill, and ditto Grimes and Sextis Grimes his wife, Lord and Lady Salisbury, Mr. and Mrs. Camfield, Mars and Venus, and three or four others were every one dead and dried up ... I am very much put out about the poor things."

She may not have been the best choice as protector of her neighbor's guinea pig when she borrowed it as a model to appease her aching desire to paint the little creature. Miss Paget agrees to lend her pet. Beatrix promises to return Queen Elizabeth safely the following morning. While Beatrix attended a fancy dinner with her parents, the Queen explored the art supplies that had been left close by and had a meal of her own.

The rest, as they say, is the stuff of dreams.

Foreshadowing keeps us a bit on edge, and Ms. Hopkinson uses a slightly mocking tone to up the enjoyment of this perfectly innocent plan gone awry. I love that she uses some of Beatrix's own journal entries, then adds 'reminder' notes of her own to give guidance for our future endeavors.

Charlotte Voake uses pen and watercolor to take us back in time to Victoria England, and invites us in to the world of the Potter family, showing their support for their daughter's love of art, and the many critters that inhabited their lives.

Backmatter includes an author's note filled with details from the research, as well as archival photos, journal entries and drawings. Much appreciated if you want to know more about this beloved author and artist.

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