What's not to love about a tale with names like
 Jemima Puddle-Duck and Timmy Tiptoes?!

The story of author and illustrator Helen Beatrix Potter is a very interesting one. It's a little long, but stick with me...

Born in 1866, little Beatrix grew up in South Kensington in the heart of London during the Victorian era, just down the road from some of the world's most acclaimed museums. (Interesingly, author/illustrator 'Dr Seuss' lived down the street from a zoo and library in the US)

I trotted right down to her home yesterday :) There was no 'blue plaque' indicating that this was her home, but I think this was it. In a charming little 'close', actually.

2 South Bolton Gardens, Kensington

Like most girls of wealthy families of her time, she was educated by governesses and not often around other children besides her brother, Bertram, who went to boarding school once he was of age. She found comfort in her pets, including the ones she and her brother 'smuggled' inside paper bags into the house. 

These pets included mice, birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, ferrets, and even a bat. (Such patient parents!) Pet bunnies Benjamin Bouncer and Peter Piper were frequent models for her earliest rabbit illustrations. She even made a leash for Peter Piper, who occasionally went on outings with her. 

At age nine, young Beatrix was filling sketchbooks of drawings of animals wearing clothes, carrying umbrellas, riding horses, and ice-skating. Despite her lack of formal education, she had a real knack for blending scientifically accurate illustrations with fantasy.

The idea of Beatrix Potter's first book, 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit', developed from illustrated letters she sent to a friend's son suffering from scarlet fever in 1893. She wrote to him, 'I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits, whose names were - Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter...'

Encouraged by friends to submit a book variation of her letters, Miss Potter was rejected by all six publishers, for they wanted a larger, more expensive book with color illustrations. She insisted the book be small enough to fit in a child's hands and affordable with illustrations on every page to hold the attention of even the youngest reader.

So in 1901, a determined Miss Potter published her own 250 copies of 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' in time for Christmas. Then having seen a copy, F Warne & Co decided to publish the book, and within a year produced six editions to meet demand. 

Beatrix Potter went on to author and illustrate 28 books throughout her lifetime. She was very involved in every aspect of her books including typeface, binding, cover design, and title pages, thus making each book truly 'By Beatrix Potter'. 

As her eyesight deteriorated as an adult, she continued to write and used previous illustrations to piece together new books. She married and moved to a farm in the Lake District in northern England. Beatrix Potter died in 1943 as a conservationist, farmer, sheep breeder, mycologist (fungi botanist), botanical illustrator, and of course, author.

There are 23 tales in the little book series, which have been translated in 35 languages, sold over 100 million copies, and never been out of print. In addition, Peter Rabbit became the first patented plush toy, making him the oldest licensed character since 1903.

Walt Disney tried to obtain the rights to Beatrix Potter's work, as he had with 'Winnie-the-Pooh' and 'The Wind in the Willows'. Miss Potter declined his offer. 

Today her life and books have been interpreted in television, film, ballet, and theater.  The biographical film 'Miss Potter' starring Renee Zellweger was released in 2006.

London's V&A Museum (free admission) holds the world's largest collection of Beatrix Potter's drawings, literary manuscripts, and related materials. You can visit the exhibition until January 2011. I visited it yesterday :)

V&A Museum, London

And if you crave more, you are in luck...
STUDY DAY at the V&A Museum, Sat 13 Nov 2010
Dissecting Peter Rabbit: Perspectives on the Art of Beatrix Potter

Coinciding with the V&A's display, Peter Rabbit™: the tale of The Tale, this study day reveals the secrets of Beatrix Potter's astounding commercial and literary success and offers insights into her compelling narratives. Speakers include award winning writers and illustrators, biographers, publishers. See the V&A website for details. 

Such a great story of creativity, passion, and determination

Do you have memories of reading these delightful
'little books' as a child? A favorite?

See Beatrix Potter's home here in the Lake District through the eyes of blog Living With Thanksgiving.

Content sources: PeterRabbit.comV&A MuseumWikipedia