Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Today I will be looking at the first book written by Beatrix Potter. The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a story that I spent much of my childhood time with. Not only did I read and have this book read to me frequently, I also watched the still motion video of it over and over again. In retrospect I think that this story caught my attention because it combines the natural environment of animals with the characteristics of humans (for example, Peter wears a blue jacket). Beatrix Potter molds these two worlds together without even needing a device to explain how this fusion is possible. As a child I loved to see the "cute" bunny going about its bunny life, yet in his Sunday best. I could relate to this animal because Beatrix Potter made Peter into just another friendly child for me to pass the time with.

The simple explanation of this story is that a young rabbit disobeys his mother and goes to Mr. McGregor's garden in order to collect some treats for himself. Mr. McGregor eventually spots Peter and menacingly chases him through the garden. Our good friend Peter barely escapes the farmer, but in his attempts he loses his good clothes and comes home to his mother as any "regular" rabbit might, with no clothes and on all fours. That night Peter is ill and the reader can take from that the moral that all good little children should listen to their parents.

What makes this story stand out to me now though is that Peter is really not a "bad seed". This does not read as a cautionary tale, it is more like an adventure in which Peter is the protagonist and you are always rooting for him. Sure, he is mischievous, but really, it is the farmer that comes off as being the "bad person". In fact the farmer has killed Peter's father and is now seen trying to kill Peter, a small child. Which leads, us to the next reason that I feel this book is so amazing.

Beatrix Potter is introducing a very innocent character in Peter, but he has to contend with some pretty distressing circumstances. His father has been killed and he is really fighting for his life in this book. Beatrix Potter drew this story from a letter she had sent an ill friend, and I think when viewing this book in that context it becomes abundantly clear that this is a story that is meant to be uplifting. This little bunny, who has so many characteristics of a normal child, has to go up against some intensely harrowing obstacles. In fact, one of my favorite parts, is when Peter has gotten caught in a gooseberry net and he starts to cry and wants to give up, but some sparrows come and implore him not to"exert himself". With their insistence he is able to regain hope and escape.

In the end, Peter is punished in a way for not obeying his mother, but really his mishap has allowed him a chance to become a stronger person (or rabbit) and illustrates to the reader how one little creature was able to surpass obstacles that might feel too difficult to get over. This book always gave me comfort as a child and I can now better appreciate why, because in the end this is really the story of getting over the hardships in life.

This story was first published in 1902 and was just the beginning in a long line of wonderful stories by Beatrix Potter, and I would suggest reading them all. Click on the picture bellow to be taken to the official Beatrix Potter website for more information and fun games with Peter.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Third Book: Corduroy

This third book in the installment is Corduroy by Don Freeman. This story has been near and dear to my heart since I can remember. The pure joy that is radiated by this little, lonely teddy bear has always made me feel a wonderful bliss.

Corduroy was published for the first time in 1968 and tells the story of a small teddy bear living in a department store in the toy section. Corduroy is lonely however, for no one wants to take him home. His world changes though when a little girl shows interest in him but her mother dismisses her wishes to purchase him by saying, "Not today dear...I've spent too much already. Besides, he doesn't look new. He's lost the button to one of his shoulder straps." The fact that the little girl cannot take him home brings sadness to Corduroy, but what makes this story really great, is his next reaction. He becomes concerned because he realizes that he has lost a button and decides that he must try and find it. This turn of events leads Corduroy on an adventure of epic proportions. This also works as a way to transform a simple story of a bear and girl wanting (and finding) a friend into an educational and fun event. Corduroy's search for his missing button leads him over mountains, into a palace, and to the new experience of being in a bed. Eventually his story ends in finding a home though, when the girl comes to purchase him with money she had saved.

The innocent kindness and curiosity that Corduroy expresses throughout this entire story endears him to the reader and also teaches a wonderful lesson to children. The accompanying drawings add much to the comprehension that Corduroy is a good soul, mainly for the fact that Freeman places such an emphasis on Corduroy's facial expressions. In doing this Freeman is giving Corduroy more than just a picturesque representation, he is giving him life.

It is easy to spot then that the essence of this book is not merely about a teddy bear finding a home, but about a deserving friend finding his place in the world. I highly recommend this book to anyone and sincerely hope that they derive as much delight from it as I have.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Second Book: The Little House

First off let me list some quick, but important facts about the book. It was written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton. The book was published in 1942 and won a Caldecott Medal. Alright, now on to some specifics!

I have loved this book since I was a child, but I have vague recollections of none of my friends having ever read it and even now when I mention it no one seems to recognize the name. This is a little unsettling to me because this story is such a beautiful one, invoking a simple happiness and flickers of sentimentality.

The premise follows a modest, but sturdy, house through four generations of a family, not always being in their possession. It begins with her being built and the family is shown around her rejoicing, the father stating, "This Little House shall never be sold for gold or silver and she will live to see our great-great-grandchildren's great-great-grandchildren living in her." The days and seasons pass, leading to years, and we see the changes of the family and landscape as they unfold in front of the dear house. Her curiosity of the city eventually ends as the city engulfs her and she becomes forgotten and forlorn. Eventually though one of the great grandchildren passes her on the city street and believes that, "That Little House looks just like the Little House my grandmother lived in when she was a little girl, only that Little House was way out in the country on a hill covered with daisies and apple trees growing around." It is soon learned though that indeed this is the same house and the great grandchild takes it to the country to live a happy life once more.

This story, though it may seem simple, is quite amazing. It propels the reader into a very humanistic view of the effects of time and the emotions that sprout from such an uncontrollable phenomena. In doing this it also gives children an understanding of time, days, seasons, and years. What is more, it also has innocent artwork that fuels the emotions the story helps to create, thus making a multi-layered reading experience. And, while at times I felt so devastated for the house that makes the ending even more wonderful.

I must say, to close, that I cannot really do this book justice. To me it really is an emotive experience and therefore hard to put down in words, but I can say that it is an experience that I love undergoing time and time again.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

First Book: Winnie the Pooh

If it wasn't obvious by the title of this blog, I love Winnie the Pooh. This book has become a permanent classic, and in my opinion, rightfully so.

The book has ten chapters, beginning with Chapter 1: In Which We Are Introduced to Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees and the Stories Begin and ending with Chapter 10: In Which Christopher Robin Gives Pooh A Party and We Say Goodbye. Each chapter represents a new adventure, for not only the characters of the book, but for the reader as well. We are introduced to our main heroes, Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh (originally Edward the Bear), and their various friends - Piglet, Kanga and Roo, Rabbit, Owl, and Eeyore. Each character offers a new perspective and their own unique skills that make them invaluable to the 100 Aker Wood.

One of the main reasons that I feel I am attracted to this book is because of the way in which it perfects the magic of imagination. A.A Milne is able to make the reader feel as if they are not just reading a book, but participating in his child's (Christopher Robin) own concept of reality. Milne validates Christopher Robin's childhood hopes and dreams by offering these adventures to the entire world, as part of their own reality.

It would be remiss to leave out the illustrations of this book though. E.H Shepard was able to further the concept of this book by the amazing drawings that he did. I can't say much on the subject of art because I really lack any knowledge of it, but I do want to say that these drawings make me smile every time I see them, and that in itself adds more magic to any children's book.

With all of this said, I will continue by pointing out my favorite chapter. For me, the most enjoyable chapter was Chapter 9: In Which Piglet is Entirely Surrounded by Water. It is very possible that in a few months, or even days, I might alter my opinion, but for now, let me say why I loved this particular chapter so much.

While all the characters of the book have special relationships, I feel as if Piglet and Pooh really are the most loving towards one another. With this in mind, it really perfected the story to see Pooh, a bear known for having little or no brains, come up with the most ingenious idea in order to save his dear friend Piglet. This is made even better though by the fact that Pooh at first does not realize he is on his way to saving Piglet. This chapter really gives you a happy ending, showing that Pooh is not only smart, but also a hero and offering you the daring rescue of a dear friend of Pooh (and I am sure if you have gotten this far in the book, yours).

Quick facts: This book was originally published in 1926. Written by A.A. Milne and illustrated by E.H. Shepard. The book is based on Milne's son Christopher Robin and his stuffed animals, along with a couple other animals. The stories concept is attributed to Milne's wife Dorothy de Selincourt who apparently told Milne that he should write stories about the beloved stuffed animals.

This blog...

Will attempt to present one children's book (most likely classic, but I might not stick to this) a week that I feel is special in some way. That, in a nut shell, is it.