In the vast realm of literature for children, one of the most memorable authors is undoubtedly Beatrix Potter. Illustrator and storyteller, Potter described her love for art, animals, and nature through her prolific achievements. Twenty-three short stories about the most whimsical personae introduce personification to young readers, from squirrels and jacket-wearing rabbits to hedgehogs, pigs, and owls who talk and think as acutely as humans. The stories are as diverse as they are numerous, delightful and reminiscent of Aesop’s Fables.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit is one of Potter’s most famous stories, where one mischievous (and hungry) rabbit risks his life for a feast in a forbidden garden and has a sequel in The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. The Tale of the Tom Kitten, on the other hand, outlines the effects of frolicking childish mischief in less fatal terms, including an encounter with three fashion-savvy ducks. It has a sequel in The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, or The Roly-Poly Pudding. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck has a more sinister plot twist, having to do with theft and murder, while The Tale of Two Bad Mice continues these themes on a smaller scale. Other stories among the twenty-three are less known but were just as dearly created.
However, one notable habit of Potter’s is her tendency to include human participation in some of the adventures she fondly narrates. The Tailor of Gloucester is more or less a Christmas tale about a desperate tailor, a clever cat, and some very industrious mice who put their personal differences aside for one very demanding project during one very special night. Another is The Tale of Pigling Bland and The Tale of Little Pig Robinson. Both feature pigs as their protagonists; the former follows the exploits of a disobedient pig who lands in nefarious circumstances, and the latter exhibits how a well-meaning young pig is tricked into joining a human naval venture which leads to kidnapping, attempted murder, and a tropical part in a famous nursery rhyme.
Animalistic “cannibalism,” a.k.a. the food chain, is a recurring topic in most of the stories, e.g. The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies, which chronicles the adulthood of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, and their offspring. Nevertheless, Potter manages to transmit her feelings on the issue with delicacy appropriate for her readers. Moreover, the majority of Potter’s storybooks focus on evident morals, criticizing or admiring obvious human traits and behaviors in her animal characters while pointing out the means to rectify certain actions.
For example, some of these “fables” actually warn against naïve trust, senseless desire, and foolish determination, like in The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher. Others, like The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan as well as The Tale of Mr. Tod, describe tit-for-tat situations that teach the main characters a lesson in honesty and virtuous living. It is sometimes startling how many human vices are within Potter’s innocent volumes: violence, robbery, vandalism, obesity, envy, deceit, and theft are only a few examples. Twenty-three individual tales (some of which are interrelated) mean twenty-three interesting examinations of conscience, reprimands, and kindly observations in the middle of accidents, incidents, catastrophes, and simple cases of confusion.
In comparison with Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Windows, Potter uses her sense of humor and her child-like fascination with her subjects to represent human experiences and trials through a comical and satirical ensemble of animals in each of her tales. Even though every story has a hidden lesson or moral, they are flanked by beautiful, charming illustrations by the author herself. Potter clearly demonstrates a deep respect for animals and natural surroundings, frequently decrying human consumption of the inhabitants of her tales and allowing the reader to fully appreciate her outlook on life.