Peter Rabbit: A Bedtime Story

In class today, we talked about the characteristics that make Peter Rabbit a good bedtime story. The language used in the story is rhythmic and was written in a way that children could be lulled to sleep very easily. The use of watercolor makes the images soothing to look at, instead of jarring vibrant colors that would excite children and keep them awake longer. Potter’s use of well-timed pauses also adds to the calming effect felt when reading the story. This discussion made me think of another well-known children’s bedtime story, Goodnight Moon and the differences in illustration between the two.

In contrast to the soothing watercolors found in Peter Rabbit, Goodnight Moon uses more bold reds, greens, and yellows. The color palette in Goodnight Moon is much more vibrant, yet it was chosen to illustrate a book with the intention of putting children to sleep. This story has less text than Peter Rabbit, so it is possible that instead of relying on soothing colors to put children to sleep, Goodnight Moon relies more on mentally preparing children to go to sleep. All of the images in Goodnight Moon focus on night time activities, such as getting ready for bed, and perhaps this is what makes the story so effective.

Do you think that one story is more effective as a bedtime story than the other?

The Importance of Color

This was definitely the book that I was most excited about to read because of the childhood memories that I associate with The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  One of my family’s weird quirks is that we all call each other rabbits.  This morning as I was getting ready for class and talking to my dad on the phone about the book we were discussing, he jokingly reminded me that it was his story, since his name is Peter and it is the Tale of Peter Rabbit.  This is why I went into reading this book with an already firmly developed opinion.

While reminiscing on my childhood, I was reminded of how  important I found the drawings in this book, as well as other children’s books from then.  Beatrix Potter’s use of whimsical and playful color in her illustrations are what make it such an uplifting children’s book.  I had mentioned this in class today, but the way that she romanticizes her idea of nature in these drawings are incredible.

The image above, is my favorite drawing in the book.  The way that she utilizes the contrasting colors of the blue jacket with the red radishes truly make the illustration pop.  This use of colors brings a sense of joy to me, and this is why I associate color with children’s books.  I think it is a very important element of these illustrations and the books in general.

What do you think is the most important element to make an illustration a children’s book illustration?

Peter Rabbit and the First Letdown

Peter Rabbit is such a mild, relaxing story in a lot of ways, in its illustration as well as its language. It’s a bedtime story, like we talked about in class. We also talked in class about what elements of it are scary. We talked about the fact that Peter’s father got baked in a pie, and how that’s the fate that awaits him, too– it’s the elements that makes the whole story just a little more Victorian than most of the books I read as a child. The thing I remember most about Peter Rabbit from my childhood, though, is that it was the book with the least satisfying ending that I’d ever heard.

I didn’t like Peter Rabbit. Well, I liked it a little, because I was being read to, but it would never be my first choice. It wasn’t because it was scary. We had a big Beatrix Potter treasury, actually, and my favorite story in it was called Roly-Poly Pudding. I won’t go into detail, but it has to do with a kitten getting caught in a chimney and baked into a pudding by rats. It was a harrowing enough tale that his escape was a victory. I was used to stories that end in some kind of victory, and Peter Rabbit ends in some kind of defeat. He escapes, but only at the cost of his coat, his shoes, and his confidence, and only gets punished for it when he gets home. It’s not a bad ending, it isn’t like anything bad happens, but it did strike me as a downer. All that for some radishes. Who even likes radishes?

Anyway, I think one of the reasons Peter Rabbit endures is that it is, in this ending, very mature. He does the wrong thing, and he suffers a fair amount. Not too much, just a fair amount. His mother isn’t happy with him, but she still takes care of him. It ends like you’d expect it to end.

 

A Missed Opportunity for “Miss Potter”

It is clear to me that Beatrix Potter’s “The Tale Of Peter Rabbit” is catered for children. As we talked about in class, the text is easy to follow and the pictures are pleasant on the eye. Because of this, I found it interesting that the movie we saw this morning was catered to an adult audience. While we only saw a few minutes, it was extremely apparent that “Miss Potter” was not created to appeal to children. Considering the subject matter of “The Tale Of Peter Rabbit” and its continued appeal to modern day children, I believe the slow and mature angle the director took was a mistake. There were moments in the first few minutes where the film appealed to the childish nature of Potter’s book, like when a young Beatrix imagined her parent’s carriage in an animated light but this was a fleeting moment in the movie. I will have to finish the entire movie to comment fully but I have to believe the film would have been more successful if scenes like this one were included which would have appealed to a younger crowd.

‘Miss Potter’ and her Peter Rabbit

The movie ‘Miss Potter’ that we watched in the last ten minutes in class really drives my attention to Beatrix Potter and her adult’s imagination of childhood. Even though we only watched the very beginning of the movie, it is not hard to find out that, there are two main lines in this movie– the publication of the story ‘Peter Rabbit’ and her creation of Peter Rabbit in her childhood.

There is a scene in the movie when the publisher visits Miss Potter in her house for the first time and acts like a rude young fellow. Miss Potter is surprised to see his obtrusive behavior due to her education from a upper middle class family. However, the book Peter Rabbit reveals the opposite side of her– admiring nature and freedom. It seems that, the publisher awakes her hidden childlike quality and plays an important role in completing Peter Rabbit.

The picture inserted in this post is from the scene when Miss Potter and her brother are about to go to bed while their parents are going to this banquet. She leans on the windows and watches her parents getting on the carriage. All of a sudden, the horses turn into huge bunnies and the carriage turns into a pumpkin lantern cart. The sudden transfer of scenes mimics the transfer from reality to imagination, which is exactly how children’s imagination works when they read children’s books. It may also represent the rebirth of her childhood characteristics.

The movie does a good job in personalizing the author through both connecting  her closely with her work and connecting her work with her experience. The beautiful and warm colors used in the movie also follow along the tone of Peter Rabbit.

The Missing Illustration

I was surprised in class when we stopped to discuss the picture of Mrs. McGregor cooking Peter Rabbit’s father into a pie because it wasn’t in my edition of the book at all. I proceeded to look at a couple other versions of Peter Rabbit online and noticed a bunch of other editions had also completely omitted that image and combined the text to fit a single image. I even had a hard time finding the image at all for the blog.

We talked about how this image really kind of interrupts the narrative because it is frightening and depicts a certain level of violence. Its style differs from the other romanticized, whimsical illustrations of nature and animals. I think the depiction of Mrs. McGregor and this seemingly hungry dog/wolf gives a more tangible idea of what could happen to Peter and generates a heightened sense of fear throughout Peter’s adventure that is not present without the illustration. I found strange not to have it in my edition of the book because I am sure it would have caught my eye as I was reading the story. On the other hand, I thought the narrative and the images flowed really well, which I think would not have been the case with the image above inserted in the story. However, Beatrix Potter likely intended the image to be shocking for the readers since the style appears to be so different just for that one image. Why do you think some publishers chose to leave it out?

The Moral of Peter Rabbit

I used to think Mr. McGregor was my neighbor when vacationing in Nantucket during the summers when I was very little. He was old, had glasses, and his garden had bunnies in it so it must have been him. I remember waking up in the mornings, rolling over and looking out my window into the garden and feeling very worried for Peter and his friends.

I thought the class discussion about the moral of The Tale of Peter Rabbit was very interesting because growing up I did not realize the book was telling me “listen to your mother” (at least not consciously). Rather, I took the book and applied it to the real world, believing the characters in the book were feet away from me. I think that this approach was probably similar to a lot of other children and I think the anthropomorphism of the realistically drawn rabbits cater to this interpretation. To a little kid, it is not a huge stretch to believe that a rabbit can talk or wears clothes, after all, you have been told that the Easter Bunny is real!

While I think the moral of the story is an important lesson for kids to learn, I don’t believe that I learned obedience from The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I wonder at what age a child would be able to constructively learn a lesson from a book such as this. Then again, maybe my concern for Peter translated into my own future actions.

Peter Rabbit

As a child, my parents never read this story to me. My first time reading it was this past week. Reading it as an adult, it was clear to see the messages being delivered through the story. The notion of obedience, and listening to your parents, as they always know best, ran rather transparently throughout the tale. However, I found myself siding more so with Peter. Acting as the protagonist, I found myself routing for him the entire way, while I saw his siblings as goody two shoes who were merely doing as they were told, rather than adventuring and making their own way. They weren’t adventurous or bold enough to warrant my attention. The stories I tend to gravitate towards are those told about the bold. The ones who go against the grain and buck the system.

Today in class, when we spoke about who each character represents, I couldn’t help but think of Mr. McGregor as representing ‘the man.” To me, he represented some kind of authoritative agent who sought to suppress adventure and creativity. Seeing as Beatrice Potter was someone who went against social norms and the wishes of her mother, I saw her being portrayed through Peter Rabbit, and all those who told her what she was doing wasn’t right being portrayed by Mr. McGregor. In the end everything turned out alright for Peter (and Beatrice) as Mr. McGregor (societal expectations and constraints) failed to capture and kill him.

After reading it, I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents chose to exclude this from our late night reading on purpose, as I was a child who had already begun expressing an aversion to authority. I think they knew I would’ve sided with Peter Rabbit, and admired his expression of individuality.

Miss Potter: A Tragic Life

After watching Miss Potter the first time a few years ago I was struck by the Victorian confines in which she lived.  Even when she achieved what he parents wished, a marriage, her parents disapproved.  When her publisher, Norman Warne proposed, Potter immediately accepted.  However, due to reasons of class, her parents ardently objected to the union.  Potter remained engaged to Warne, but agreed to keep the news secret.  When Warne died of leukemia merely weeks later, she was forbade from discussing her grief with her parents.

This is the heartbreaking side of Miss Potter.  Similar to Peter, Potter tested social norms and the restrictions of her parents.   Unlike Peter, however, her escape from the social norm was tragic.  The reader is satisfied that Peter learns his lesson at the end.  Not so much with Beatrix.

Teaching Children About Cultural & Social Structures Through Literature

This week we talked about illustration and themes in The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. As a young adult, going back and rereading something I haven’t seen since I was child was an exciting and eye-opening experience. As a child I think I missed a lot of themes when my parents would read to me because I would just be completely fixated on the images, rather than following the content of the storyline, (or I would fall asleep before we reach the moralistic ending). In reexamining Potter’s work, I think the theme of following social norms and being obedient are interesting topic to teach children. It makes sense that parents would want to read books to their children that will help mold them into well-behaved human beings, but I think that Peter Rabbit also does a great job of also introducing the excitement of going against the norms. The most enticing illustrations are those in which Peter is caught in the act of doing something he is not supposed to be doing. For example, the key image of Peter eating the carrots in the garden. While Peter’s disobedience lands him in the scary situation of encountering Mr. McGregor and needing to run away in the hopes of escaping death, he ultimately survived. Even though he did not get to eat the bread, milk, and berries for supper like the other three good rabbits, Peter still ended up safe and sound back at home. I am not arguing against the idea that the theme of Peter Rabbit is about “listening to you mother” and being obedient, but rather noticing that it is possible for everything to work out if you do not follow the rules. After all, Peter did not end up being baked into a pie like his father. It is more likely that children will catch onto the theme of needing to follow the rules or else they will get in trouble (or not enjoy the same benefits as those who are rule-followers); I just find it fascinating that if Potter wanted to send a clear-cut message of “follow the rules or else,” than she probably would have made Peter die or get caught by Mr. McGregor. Incorporating the scary consequences into the protagonists actions would present a more powerful fear of breaking norms.

This narrative that eases children into cultural and social structures of conformity is common in children’s literature. Another coming of age story this reminded me of was that of Hans Christian Anderson’s work, The Ugly Duckling.  The contrasting views between the Ugly Ducking and Peter Rabbit being the odd man out can either be viewed as a beneficial life experience that compliments individuality or a dangerous taboo that should be discouraged. This goes back to the question posed in class: What makes children’s literature? But more specifically, what lessons should be taught in children’s literature? And who gets to decide? I think a mixture of books that encourage nonconformist and conformist behavior would probably be the best way to help introduce children to social elements of this complex life. Seeing which ones they favor would be quite compelling.