The Scariest Book Yet?

I remember hating Peter Rabbit when I was young. I couldn’t pinpoint why, but all I knew was that something about the story made me feel off, a little uncomfortable. No matter how much my dad pushed the story on me (it’s his favorite book), I would refuse to listen when he read the story to my brother and sister.

A kid feeling scared of Peter Rabbit? It just didn’t make sense to my parents, especially when that kid loved Tim Burton movies, and wore a choker every day pretending to be the girl with the green ribbon from In a Dark, Dark Room and Other Scary Stories.

It’s interesting rereading Peter Rabbit as an adult. I still don’t feel very comfortable with the story, but unlike when I was in preschool, I know think I can explain why.

I’ll begin with a comparison to explain – the images from Edward Gorey’s Amphigorey are the types of images that should inspire fear in the reader. But, because their are no images of clear pain, no detailed facial expressions of pain or fear from the characters, I sympathize less. These are characters. They don’t have feelings. I can accept the stories as they are – just stories.

But now, looking at Peter Rabbit, there are moments when we get a detailed look at Peter – his fear, turmoil, and loss of hope. You can see tears in his eyes. Birds seemingly laugh at his struggle and pain. I understand Peter’s pain, more than I can understand the pain of the character’s in Amphigorey because I feel like I have been in a similar situation. Peter’s pain feels real and I hate seeing him in distress.

Ironically, when looking at all the books we have analyzed this semester, Peter Rabbit is the “scariest” book yet. Even though the book has no aspects of horror (like that in Gorey’s stories), even though the book is intended as a bedtime story for young children, I find the book disturbing because no one, not one person or animal, comes to Peter’s rescue. In my opinion, Peter Rabbit paints an uncaring and unloving world that we must learn to navigate because, when push comes to shove, no one will be there to offer support in times of trouble.

Peter Rabbit as a Coming of Age Story?

While reviewing “Peter Rabbit”, our class discussed to what extent it was a coming of age story. Like many books of this genre, there is a young protagonist who is accustomed to a certain way of life but wishes to break out of this pattern and to embark on some kind of adventure. This journey can take many forms, but its main literary objective is to instill an evolution or development of sorts within the protagonist, so that, by the end, he or she has learned something about themselves or their relationship to their surrounding world.

Taking place in the Victorian Era and encouraging the lesson of conforming to social norms, we have to wonder how much this book is about individuality the way that other coming of age stories are. Peter is warned by his mother about the dangers of the outside world, and those cautions come to fruition for him. Instead of overcoming the obstacles that he faces with wit or connections, Peter escapes only by sheer luck. He comes home with his proverbial tail between his legs and is punished for it. He is ultimately re-confined in the safety and limited beliefs of his domestic space.

This makes me wonder if this was the extent of a coming of age story in the Victorian Era or perhaps just for Beatrix Potter — that it takes going out on one’s own to have the traditional beliefs and social structures confirmed for an individual. This kind of story, to me, would reproduce these fears and cautionary behavior in Peter, or in the generation being read to.

Down the Rabbit Hole from Potter to Disney

Before this class, I had never read Beatrix Potter. So while reading Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I noticed a number of similarities to Disney, which I did grow up reading and watching. It appears Disney took many cues from Potter for the characters that it has created for its various fairytales. Here are a few examples:



Mama Rabbit’s blue dress and white apron looks a lot like like Alice’s from Alice in Wonderland.



Like Mama Rabbit, Snow White cooks on the same kind of apparatus for those who are under her care.


Peter and Snow White both communicate with woodland creatures.


Peter and Cinderella both communicate with mice- well the mouse wasn’t all that communicative with Peter.


Also like Peter, Cinderella left her shoe behind.

Some of these examples may just be coincidences, but it looks like Disney took a lot of inspiration from Potter. To me, it feels like these things are more associated with Disney than they are with Potter. Disney made things like the Alice’s dress and Cinderella leaving her shoe more iconic. This begs the question, did Disney pay homage to Potter with some of these illustrations, or did Disney plagiarize Potter? 

Approaching Dark Themes in Children’s Literature

I was smiling through our entire class on Monday. Peter Rabbit and all of Beatrix Potter’s story were at the center of my childhood. The BBC version of her tales was one of my favorites as a child-I remember watching it many times over at my grandmother’s house on VCR. Still, I keep returning to the question posed in class about depicting death/difficult concepts in children’s literature. What is the right way to present dark topics to children? At what point should we draw the line in the genre of “children’s” literature?

This question reminded me of a Danish children’s book I came across this fall that directly confronts the concept of death in a beautifully illustrated story while remaining distinctly within the realm of children’s literature. In my experience, it is more precarious to attempt to skirt around difficult topics with children, attempting to shroud their harshness, than to confront them more directly. Cry Heart, But Never Break personifies Death, drawing him into the household of four young children as he arrives to take their grandmother. The book strikes a really beautiful balance between the stark necessity of dying and the tenderness and sensitivity that the character of Death exhibits while carrying out his duty. Glenn Ringtved offers a poignant and age-appropriate, yet not overly shrouded way of teaching children about death. Of course, the illustrations, by Charlotte Pardi, carry the brunt of the emotion in this story. Like in Peter Rabbit, the images are almost more important than the text, particularly because   On the other hand, the story of Peter Rabbit is generally so whimsical in its tone that the few darker moments feel quite stark. The casual reference to Peter’s father being baked into a rabbit pie interrupts the gentle narrative of the story. This moment seems to break up the pitter-patter cadence of the rest of the piece, tripping up the reader. If these more difficult/severe lessons were more evenly interspersed throughout Potter’s story, the rabbit pie moment would feel less severe. At root, it seems the keys to successfully introducing darker themes in children’s literature are balance and forthrightness.



If you want to know more, here’s a wonderful article about Cry Heart, But Never Break:


Peter Rabbit: Human or Animal?

I found our in class discussion on how Peter Rabbit is anthropomorphized quite fascinating and something I hadn’t thought about before. His mother is very careful and deliberate in buttoning his jacket which is what ends up getting him caught just as he’s about to escape Mr. McGregor.

What’s more, his shoes also seem to be a hinderance that he kicks off to “r[u]n on four legs and [go] faster”. I think this brings up an interesting question of what Beatrix Potter is trying to portray Peter as. We could see it as him being confined by the restrictions and expectations his mother put on him and that he needs to free himself of them to escape. At the same time however, Peter Rabbit is an animal and we see him going from dressed up, walking on his hind legs, holding vegetables in his front paws to escaping on all fours in the manner of a rabbit.

What does she mean by reversing his personification? And what implications does his identity have for Mr. McGregor? Is he the prey being hunted by the human, or is he the human being stalked by the animal?


Peter Rabbit Paratext

When I got to class today, I realized that everyone had a different version of Peter Rabbit than I did (I found mine used off Amazon and didn’t think it would be very different than the other version). My cover looked like this… 

The book is much larger than the other version, but it has omitted some of the pictures. Instead the illustrations are blown up versions of the originals, and the editor chose seemingly the most important illustration for every three illustration the original copy has. Text that took up a single page from the original have also been combined onto one page, so there are more sentences per page.

I think the choices the editor made for this version of Peter Rabbit are very interesting. After discussing the importance of Potter’s illustrations and how they really drive the whole story, it is a shame that this editor didn’t include all of the original illustrations. On the other hand, the full size illustrations on the page were captivating. I definitely prefer the original version over this one, but I could imagine a child enjoying the full page, glossy illustrations.

Gender Coding in Peter Rabbit

Our class discussion about the ways in which Beatrix Potter imposes gender roles in Peter Rabbit today was fascinating. I think the most interesting character to look at in terms of this discussion is Peter’s mother. While the daughters wear only red and Peter wears only blue, his mother switches back and forth between the colors from one illustration to another.

This could be interpreted as her having to serve the double role of both mother and father, since Peter’s father was baked into a pie. As a single parent, she has to take on aspects of both traditional male and female roles. She is responsible for caring for her children, but also for providing for her family. It is interesting that when she goes out in public, she puts on the feminine red cloak that her daughters wear. Only in private is it acceptable for her to demonstrate masculine characteristics.

The Return of Peter Rabbit!

When I saw on the syllabus we were going to be reading The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I was beyond excited. I remember getting tucked into bed at night as a 4 year old and begging for my Dad to read me this particular story…

It was certainly one of those experiences (as I have addressed before in blog posts) where I was shocked to re-anaylze a childhood story. Honestly, I didn’t really remember what the story was about – I just remembered that I had loved it. Rereading it today, I was shocked to see how strange, and actually somewhat sad, the story really is. Peter is getting chased by a man who wants to kill him, and when he escapes back home, his mother doesn’t feed him the yummy foods that she does to his siblings… Where is the happy ending? I digress.

Anyways, aside from that initial “plot surprise”, I did enjoy my time paging through the tiny  book once again. I love the small drawings splashed onto the pages. They are simplistic, gentle, and perfectly sized for the book. I’m excited to see where our conversation in class this week takes us.

Collaging Interest

This was the first time in longer than I can remember that I had the opportunity to collage. And I absolutely loved it. There was something incredibly therapeutic in finding images, cutting them out, and playing with their placement on paper. It was a very unique way of creating art in that it offered you that opportunity and freedom to play with different layouts and combinations before having anything solidified. It was very unlike drawing in which, plan and sketch as you might like, you’re unable to move an object after you’ve outlined it or colored it. Collage lacks this kind of finality that I just found so liberating and serendipitous. It’s interesting because I remember dislike collage the first time I did it because I was very dissatisfied with the different textures and uneven edges that inevitably come out of collaging. I saw them as imperfections. But this time around, perhaps because we’ve studied it in class and I’ve come into a new appreciation of it, but I found the different textures and styles really adding to the overall piece.

Ever since the workshop, I’ve found myself to be very consciously aware of all the magazines I’ve come across and mentally putting images together in my mind to see how they would work together in a collage. When I was little, I mistakingly had the impression that collage lacked artistic ability and skill because you were using ready-made images but I’ve come to find now that i have immense respect for all collages and see that they require no end of artistic ability.

Digital Illustration

I found the digital illustration workshop to be very difficult. I was hoping to create a baseball field, complete with a pitcher on the mound and a batter getting ready to hit. Ideally, I was going to make the view of the field from the batter’s perspective. I was able to make the outline of the field with the foul lines and the wall in the outfield. However, when I tried to make home plate and the batter’s box, the image looked like you were looking down at the baseball field from the sky and not out at the field from the batter’s position. Adding color to the field also proved to be a challenge. I used many different shapes to create the outline of the field and when I went to fill in all of the space that was supposed to be grass, I couldn’t figure out how to do it.

The Illustrator program has many unique features that would have been very useful if I was more skilled in using the program. It was interesting how you had to change your way of thinking in order to be proficient in creating certain objects. To be able to create more complex objects with this program, you needed to be able to break the object down into shapes and lines, instead of thinking of the object as a whole. Using Illustrator helped me start thinking about collage in terms of bringing together different images to create one object, much like we needed to bring together different lines and shapes to create something in Illustrator.