Near to Tolkien, I happened to spy a beautiful volume of The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter. And true to this month's "genre", I have never read Beatrix Potter! Sure, I "know" the tale of Peter Rabbit, but I've never actually read any of the little books! So I checked it out, and it sat on my coffee table for three weeks, then I hastily read it over 3 evenings. Yay for short kiddie tales with pictures!
March 2015: Shame on you! Why haven't you read that yet?!
Beatrix Potter - The Complete Tales
This large volume has all of Potter's 23 animal stories and verses in complete, unabridged format and it includes all the original illustrations (colour and black and white) as well. Did you know that Potter did all of the paintings and drawings? I had no idea. Also included are a couple picture sequences, and two unpublished stories. The stories are arranged in the chronological order in which they were published, starting with A Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. Each story includes an short introduction, or background, about where/why Potter might've written the story, or to whom she dedicated it, or how the story setting related to her real life. The introductions do an excellent job of setting the scene, and helped transport me as the reader back to turn-of-the-century English countryside.
The stories themselves are quite cute. They are definitely of and for another time period, back when children were allowed to read stories about bags of bunnies being cooked in a Mr. Tod's (the fox) oven (spoiler - the bunnies are rescued). The animals are anthropomorphized, in their cute human clothes, the houses they live in, the items they keep and the activities to do (to market so we can have a dinner party!). And sometimes, there are even humans living alongside the animals. I did find the stories a bit...well, I'm not the target audience. Some of the endings are a bit twee or abrupt, some of them don't seem to have any point at all (like the one about Pig Robinson), and some are just plain boring (like sadly almost any story with a cat in it). But I can see how they would be lovely read-alouds to young children, who would quite enjoy the cute characters and idyllic scenery. It's also quite sweet how some of the characters are reoccurring, and the map inside the book cover really makes it feel like Potter created a world of animals and nature within our own world.
I think my favourite story is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, because, well, look at how cute he is!
It's also your typical morality tale of the "serves you right because you were naughty" variety. And, if you read the rest of the tales, when Peter Rabbit comes up again, he is much changed from his experience, and is basically a kind, upstanding member of the community, his veggie stealing days behind him. Aw.
I'd recommend this book, or any of the Beatrix Potter tales, to anyone who has small children. The artwork alone is worth a look, as some of her paintings are quite the portrayal of the perfect country life. This is a worthy collection for adult fans as well, so if you remember reading these stories as a kid, pick up this book and read them again to your own kiddlets!