I haven’t done a picture book roundup in nearly a month, so here’s one on my Beatrix Potter books (books 86-88 for 2009), because I recently found a great Peter Rabbit gift set at Book Sale
I didn’t really grow up on Beatrix Potter; I was familiar with her books (well, who wouldn’t be, they’re the best selling picture books of all time!) but I didn’t really pay attention to them until later on, I think when I was in high school, when my sister got The Tailor of Gloucester as a Christmas present and it became my favorite Beatrix Potter story.
The Tailor of Gloucester is similar to The Elves and the Shoemaker story, but in Beatrix Potter style, it involves a cat named Simpkin and a band of mice. The tailor needs to sew a coat for the Mayor of Gloucester, and has all the pieces cut out and laid out at his shop, but he is lacking one skein of cherry-colored silk.
So when he gets home he instructs Simpkin to go to the store to buy milk and that cherry-colored twist with the last of his money (I wish my cat were that intelligent!). But while Simpkin is gone, the tailor inadvertently frees the mice that Simpkin has been reserving for his dinner, so the vexed cat begrudges him the thread. Out of worry, the tailor falls ill thinking about that one twist he needs to finish the coat and ends up bedridden for three days and three nights.
Meanwhile, the little brown mice are grateful for their lives and so they decide to run to the tailor’s shop and work on the coat that the Mayor will wear to his wedding. When Simpkin learns what they have done, he feels guilty about his deed and lays the skein on the tailor’s bed, just as the tailor recovers. The tailor despairs the end of his career because it is the morning of the wedding and he has no more strength to sew more than one buttonhole, but when he gets to the shop, lo and behold, the most beautiful coat is laid out on his work table, magnificently embroidered except for one last buttonhole, because there is no more twist!
The tailor sews the final buttonhole, and he becomes famous for embroidery so fine, the stitches looked like they were made by
mice! All’s well that ends well… except for Simpkin, who never got his mice.
The Peter Rabbit Giant Treasury was one of the first books I mooched when I joined BookMooch, but I never got around to reading it until now. It contains The Tales of: Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Benjamin Bunny, Two Bad Mice, Mrs. Tiggy-winkle, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, plus the Tailor of Gloucester and The Pie and the Patty-Pan.
The stories and the illustrations are so charming, and for someone who isn’t really fond of animal stories, I found that they were still great fun to read. I guess it’s because Beatrix Potter wasn’t trying to be cute; she believed her characters to be real and it translates to the stories – they crackle with wit and humor, and they realistically captured the circle of life, predators and prey: Peter Rabbit’s father was baked into a pie by Mr. McGregor’s wife, cats chase down mice; big fish gobble up small frogs; and owls eat moles and mice and minnows!
The beautiful illustrations capture the stories perfectly and have stood the test of time, even going beyond the books into licensed merchandise. Peter Rabbit is easily one of the most identifiable characters around today. An amazing feat, and today’s illustrators can only hope to achieve this longevity.
I still love the Tailor of Gloucester, but I also love Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle (who makes an appearance in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series); the bad mice Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca (Love the name!); and cute little Benjamin Bunny, who helps Peter Rabbit recover his clothes.
Finally, we come to my pièce de résistance: The Peter Rabbit gift set (Book + Plushie)
I got this at Book Sale for P140 (around $3) and it was the Peter Rabbit plushie that got to me. I just had to have it!
I also like this particular edition of the Beatrix Potter books (F. Warne & Co.’s Original Peter Rabbit Books) because thanks to technology, the new color reproductions are brighter and of better quality. Check out the side by side comparisons of the scenes below, on the left from the Peter Rabbit Giant Treasury, and on the right the new F. Warne & Co. color reproductions:
(This reminds me that I have to upgrade my Peter Rabbit Treasury into one with better quality reproductions.)
Whether for kids or kids at heart, the Beatrix Potter books are definitely a must-have for any household.
My copies: Peter Rabbit Giant Treasury, hardbound 1980 edition; The Tailor of Gloucester, hardcover gift book with dust jacket; Peter Rabbit gift set, containing hardcover gift book with dust jacket and Peter Rabbit Plushie.
My rating: Peter Rabbit Giant Treasury, 4/5 stars (reproduction issues); The Tailor of Gloucester, 5/5 stars; Peter Rabbit gift set, 5/5 stars