I was twice challenged on Facebook to post a book cover per day for a period of days. I forget if it was 7 books in 7 days or 10 in 10. I chose 10. I think they were supposed to be influential and not just favourites, so I sought books that have influenced me. Allow me to write some musings on them, one by one…
Book No. 1: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Peter Rabbit has been a long-time, near-constant companion of mine in one way or another. First, it was one of the earliest books in my experience (of course), although I suspect I encountered Good Night, Moon before it. Second, I used Peter Rabbit dishes as a child, and I have a very small stuffed Peter Rabbit who has now be acquired by my eldest son.
Third, The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a near-perfect kids’ book. It is a story with a plot and realistic drawings. Although there may be a moral (Do as your mother says so as not to be eaten by the neighbours), it is mostly an adventure story about a rabbit seeking to escape Mr McGregor’s garden and not be caught by the gardener and put in a pie as his father had been.
I would like to pause here and think about the character of Mr McGregor. Even before the release of the Peter Rabbit film (which I refused to see), it had come home to me that Mr McGregor is not a villain. Unlike the character in the film, who seems to be a psychopathic animal-hater based on the trailers, he is a man with a garden. Like all men with gardens, he does not want herbivorous animals eating his vegetables. Therefore, he seeks to drive them away. If caught and edible, he will eat them.
Mr McGregor is not a villain. He is a human.
Nonetheless, from the rabbit perspective, Mr McGregor is, at least, the antagonist of the story. He is not malicious; he is simply a force of nature to be avoided by wise rabbits, the same way one might avoid a grizzly bear.
This approach to Mr McGregor is consonant with the rest of Beatrix Potter’s books. Consider Jemima Puddle Duck, who succeeds in laying eggs safe from a fox only to have them gobbled up by puppies at the end of the story. Or Squirrel Nutkin who taunts a deadly predator and loses only his tail. We would not say that dogs or owls or foxes are villains; neither is Mr McGregor.
Anyway: Fourth, the board book pictured above is one of the first books we bought for our eldest son, now almost three years old. My journey with The Tale of Peter Rabbit has become more intensified over the last three years. I read this tale to both of my sons often. It is comfortable and comforting, up there with the nightly ritual of Good Night, Moon and singing lullabies I first heard from my own mother.