Thursday, April 7, 2016

Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson -- NOT RECOMMENDED

Hopkinson, Deborah Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, illustrated by Charlotte Voake. PICTURE BOOK. Schwartz & Wade (Random House), 2016. $17.99. Content: PG.

Even as a child, Beatrix Potter adored animals and had a menagerie full of pets -- all of whom she loved to paint pictures of and write about. Unfortunately, she wasn't always successful at keeping her beloveds -- or her friends' beloveds -- alive. In this book, snippets from her journals detail a few of her deadlier disasters. The entries are interspersed with Potter-esque pictures and light narration from the author.

I adored the illustrations in this story but, to be honest, I found the rest of the book horrifying. Reading about so many sweet, defenseless pets' deaths made me feel sad and sorry and a little bit sick. The light-hearted, humorous narration felt at-odds with the depressing content, as if it were belittling the genuine sadness that comes with losing a pet. The first moral of the story -- that it's not a good idea to loan your pet to someone -- is often true. The second moral -- that if you do loan a pet to a friend, always have the friend draw/paint a picture of it so you can sell it for heaps of money several decades later -- lacks empathy, and the idea that a pet's death is fine as long as you get some money out of it is not the nicest of lessons to share with young children. I understand that much of it was to be tongue-in-cheek, but it definitely did not work for me.

Note: While this book is based on details from Potter's own life, Hopkinson has taken some liberties with a few elements, as explained in the author's note at the back of the book. For example, the guinea pig incident actually occurred when Potter was an adult, not a young child (as the text implied).

EL (K-3) -- NOT RECOMMENDED. Reviewer: Caryn

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