Friday, April 12, 2013

Beatrix Potter Books

Beatrix Potter1.jpg
photo from

I checked out several books about Beatrix Potter from the library to evaluate.  Peter's assigned reading selections this year are largely from Year 5 of the Ambleside Online Curriculum.  I looked into the recommended Lilias Trotter bio also, but wasn't sure it was something I wanted to have my children read without looking at it more carefully first (due to doctrinal differences -- it deals with religion quite a bit, as she was a missionary).  At first I'd thought maybe the children could read about both of the ladies, but for now we're just doing Beatrix Potter, and Lilias Trotter has been moved to the not-high-priority category.  Which probably means I won't make a determination about it for quite some time, if ever.

Here are the books I checked out about Beatrix Potter, and some thoughts about them.  Please do realize that I haven't read these in detail.  For the most part I only scanned them cursorily to gain a bit of a sense of Beatrix Potter as a person and the general construct of these books.  Bethany (age 12 when we were doing this -- she recently turned 13) looked at some of them in more detail to help me evaluate further after I'd looked some. 
  • At Home With Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer.  This book gives a good idea of what everyday life was like for Beatrix at her home on Hill Top Farm by taking you on a photographic tour of the house and premises.  It's a lovely book with lot of photos, as well as extracts from her letters and diaries, and quite a bit of text as well.  It's not a book with text written for younger children (nothing objectionable that I noticed, but just not written with that audience in mind), but they may enjoy looking through it anyway for sake of the photos.  If you're really into Beatrix Potter you may want to read it.
  • Beatrix Potter by Margaret Speaker Yuan. This is the one we decided to buy and use for our AO Year 5 (I did NOT pay $30+ for it, which is the cheapest Amazon price is as I'm writing this! Not worth that, imo, and I'm not sure what is going on there.).  It's not perfect, but it gets the job done.  It's a suitable length for what we're doing -- around 100 pages -- seems pretty factual, but I didn't find it dry.  Peter (age 11) is enjoying it.  I've read some of it myself, but not all yet.
  • Beatrix Potter:  A Life In Nature by Linda Lear.  As someone said who mentioned it on an AO discussion list, this is "quite a tome." It's excessive for this AO Year's reading, both in level and in quantity, unless perhaps if you have an intense student who really likes Beatrix Potter and doesn't mind the length.  It looks well-researched.  This might be the best option for someone wanting to know about her in depth.   
  • The Beatrix Potter Knitting Book by Pat Menchini. I got this mostly out of curiosity.  I can knit a bit, but not like this.  These are elaborate patterns of characters from the books on clothing items.  Works of art.  And very English in style.  King of interesting to look through but I don't have any need for it personally.
  • The Country Artist: A Story about Beatrix Potter by Collins.  This is a Creative Minds biography.  It's okay, but better for younger children.  A bit simplistic for Year 5 in my opinion, but then, we're using the George Washington Carver Creative Minds one just b/c we have it already (and possibly will supplement with another that brings out his faith).  So whatever works for you.  These bios are pretty short (only 55 pages).  There is a little fictionalized dialog, but not as much as in the bio by Aldis (see below).
  • Nothing Is Impossible: The Story of Beatrix Potter by Dorothy Aldis.  This has more fictionalized dialog and perhaps other artistic license, which isn't my favorite when it comes to history, personally.  I wasn't a big fan of this one, and neither was Bethany.
  • The Ultimate Peter Rabbit by Hallinan.  This is a DK book.  It looks overall like it would be a very nice supplemental book for learning more about Beatrix Potter's stories and life, and is laid out as a typical DK fact book is -- heavy on pictures, informative brief text.  However, it would need editing for my home before it would be able to be in circulation.  On page 25 it shows a painting of a child (not just a baby) standing completely naked.  It's a view from the back, but not one that I care to have in my children's picture books.  It's the painting "Love Locked Out" by Annalea Merritt, if you want to look it up at your own discretion and see whether you think it's a problem for you.  It's only tangentially related to Beatrix Potter.  The book mentions that Beatrix Potter seemed to give tribute to this work in one of her illustrations of Peter rabbit.  Personally, I didn't see it as needed at all, and don't appreciate what seems to be a habit DK has of throwing in unnecessary nudity into books for children.  I wish that were different, but I still do like DK books for their good facts and photos, and my children enjoy and learn from them, after I look them over a bit and edit anything I deem necessary.  I don't know whether there's anything else in that particular book or not, though it looked like if there were it wouldn't be too much.
  • You can also get Beatrix Potter's diaries, which come in various volumes.  I checked one out but really didn't look at it much.  Personally I'd have to be way more into her before I'd want to sit and read her diaries.
  • Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller, and Countrywoman by Judy Taylor.  This one has quite a few black and white photographs.  There is quite a bit of text as well, and it is more lengthy and in depth than some (though not nearly as long as Lear's).  It may be a bit dry to some.  The author has other books about Beatrix Potter which may be worth looking into as well.  She is also considered one of the largest collectors of Beatrix Potter's writings and art.
  • Finally, we also checked out The Complete Tales, which the children thoroughly enjoyed going through.  We have a treasury which contains some of the stories, as well as a couple of the small individual books that belong to my daughter Tirzah, but we don't own all of the stories. I just never prioritized it, I guess, but I think I may eventually see about at least getting more of them.  
There are other resources out there that look worth looking into, which if I hadn't decided to settle on the Yuan bio I may have tried to get my hands on.  There's one by Margaret Lane I'd seen mentioned somewhere that I didn't get ahold of, for instance.

It's been interesting to learn about Beatrix Potter, and I hope I can at least finish the Yuan biography before too long to learn more.  I'm disappointed that it's gone up in price so much on Amazon -- how am I supposed to recommend that?  Perhaps you could find it elsewhere, though a quick Google search when I tried didn't look too promising.  Maybe it will come back down, too.

What are your favorite books by or about Beatrix Potter?

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  1. This is helpful; thanks! How nice that your library has such a good selection.

  2. Hi! You've mentioned a couple that I haven't seen. That's always good! I will say, though, that the Lane bio is one of the best for middle grade children that I've seen. I disliked the Aldis for the same reasons you mentioned: it's a work of fiction, not a bio. And I LOVED Linda Lear's bio! I'm going to put it in my plans for high school for my girls...