Thursday, February 4, 2016

Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

     Time for a book birthday review.
     Out this week:

Title: Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate
              Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Charlotte Voake
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, February 2, 2016
Intended ages: 4-8
Themes: Literary figures, animals, death

Opening Line(s):
"My Dear Reader,
This is a story about a girl named Beatrix Potter and what happened when she borrowed her neighbor's guinea pig. So if you are about to lend your favorite hamster, snake, cat, turtle, or hedgehog, please wait!"

Synopsis: In homage to Beatrix Potter, a story of good intentions going awry when a young girl borrows a neighbor's pet for an artist's model.

     I have mixed feelings about this book. I don't know if my background affected my reading, but in case it did, here are the relevant bits. I lived in England for four years, and am a huge fan of Beatrix Potter's work.  Everyone hears Beatrix Potter and thinks about Peter Rabbit, but The Tale of Two Bad Mice is probably my  favorite. Go read it if you haven't. And I had three childhood guinea pigs (RIP Ginger, G.P., and Ruff). I also write for children, and belong to one particular group that focuses on nonfiction (so I hear Kristen Fulton's voice in my head while reading)
     I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way young Beatrix's life in late 1800's London is portrayed. The reader meets a young girl walking rabbits on a leash and bringing a huge menagerie of wild animals into the house with apparently no adult intervention or repercussions. Her permissive upbringing in a well-to-do home is, from what I know, an accurate reflection of her life.
     The pages reproduced (happily, in translated form) from her diary are interwoven seamlessly, propelling the story to the main event. Her picture diaries bring to mind today's books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure and may serve to inspire a new generation of writer/artists.
     While, thankfully, I never killed any of my pets, the reality of such accidents feels realistic and sympathetic. But then I read the Author's Note. It is documented that Potter drew watercolors of guinea pigs around the time that this story is envisioned. However, Potter was 26 years old at the time, not a child. I had pictured a child's mistake as just that, a forgivable mistake borne of responding to her parents' call. The same actions committed by a 26-year old woman? Not as humorous. Would I have the same reaction if the author chose to focus on the death of the bat or family of snails Potter was also responsible for? Perhaps not.
     The book is an interesting period piece. I recently finished Leonard Marcus' biography of Margaret Wise Brown that refers to times when Margaret skinned dead animals, shocking the other children, also shattering the notion that women of earlier eras didn't live rough and tumble lives.
     I recommend this book to Beatrix Potter lovers. The author notes that except for her diary pages, all of the dialogue is invented. So is this a biography? The publisher says it is.
     I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


  1. Tale of Two Bad Mice is my favorite Potter book, too. :) Sounds like there is an interesting mix of fact (diary entries) and fiction (made up dialogue). I'll have to read the book before I can decide whether I like the way it's done.

    1. Let me know what you think! I trust your opinion. :)

  2. I have this one on my review pile - I didn't read your whole review. i don't like to be influenced. ;) I will have to come back after and read the rest!

    1. I know what you mean! I try not to read reviews before I do mine.