Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Charlotte Voake

There's a bit of buzz going around now about a newly discovered (i.e. they dug through her attic) manuscript from Beatrix Potter which is to be illustrated by Quentin Blake. Apart from my own feelings about attic books (not favorable) I don't understand why they picked an illustrator whose art is so dissimilar to Beatrix Potter's delicate drawings. I was happy to see that this subtly humorous tale of Potter's childhood did not make that mistake, being illustrated by Charlotte Voake who, although she has her own definite style, feels more evocative of Potter's taste and art to me.

The story begins with Beatrix Potter and her intense interest in drawing the natural world around her. However, during her childhood in the city, there was not much access to the natural world. Beatrix never let that stop her, however, and she and her brother collected a wide variety of pets. Unfortunately, they did not have a guinea pig and Beatrix dearly wanted to draw one. So, she borrowed one from the neighbor next door, a fine animal named Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, despite Beatrix's best intentions, Queen Elizabeth came to an...unfortunate end. Beatrix attempted to make up for the sad demise with a delicate portrait but if you were the bereaved Miss Paget, what would you have done?

The author continues with a note detailing Potter's later life and the later discovery of a portrait of a guinea pig, drawn about that time, which sold for an extensive sum. A detailed author's note, complete with photographs and primary documents, gives more information about Beatrix Potter's life and legacy along with sources of quotations and a brief bibliography.

Charlotte Voake's delicate watercolors are the perfect accompaniment to this delightfully Victorian tale, with tiny drawings of the various animals, reproductions of entries in Potter's journals, and elegant spreads of Beatrix Potter's world.

While I personally loved this story and the delicate art that accompanies it, it's unlikely to be a title that flies off your shelves on its own account. The tongue-in-cheek humor, while it will give a giggle to older readers "You can guess what happened next. That repast of paper, paste, and string took its toll. In the night the queen expired." will probably fly right over the heads of younger listeners. It's also a fairly lengthy text and would need a patient audience to sit still for the entire book while the more advanced vocabulary will need a good reader to wade through on their own.

Verdict: Although this doesn't have universal appeal, it's one that certain, specific children and their parents will love, especially if they are fans of Beatrix Potter. Occasionally I will purchase titles with limited appeal for certain segments of my audience and this is one that falls under that heading. If you have an audience for this type of book at your library, it's definitely the one to purchase this year in that category.

ISBN: 9780385373258; Published 2016 by Schwartz and Wade; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

1 comment:

Annette Bay Pimentel said...

An interesting post about this book and the sometimes fuzzy line between fiction and nonfiction is here: https://medinger.wordpress.com/2016/02/02/the-fuzzy-line-between-fiction-and-nonfiction/
Deborah Hopkinson weighs in down in the comments.