Mother Daughter Book Reviews is pleased to provide a review of the newly-released picture book “Beatrix Potter & The Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig” by Deborah Hopkinson & Charlotte Voake.
Acclaimed and award-winning master of the historical fiction picture book Deborah Hopkinson takes readers back to Victorian England and the home of budding young artist and animal lover Beatrix Potter in her new picture book “BEATRIX POTTER & THE UNFORTUNATE TALE OF A BORROWED GUINEA PIG“.
Title: Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig | Author: Deborah Hopkinson | Illustrator: Charlotte Voake | Publication Date: February 2, 2016 | Publisher: Schwartz & Wade | Pages: 44 | Recommended Ages: 4 to 8 | Reviewed by: Renee (Mother)
Published in time for the 150th anniversary of her birth, this story stars a young Beatrix Potter, creator of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and many other classic children’s books.
Master of the historical fiction picture book, Hopkinson takes readers back to Victorian England and the home of budding young artist and animal lover Beatrix Potter. When Beatrix brings home her neighbor’s pet guinea pig so that she can practice painting it, well . . . it dies! Now what?
Written in the form of a “picture letter,” this charming, hilarious, and mostly true tale is a wonderful introduction to a beloved author/illustrator and perfect for Common Core curriculums.
An author’s note includes photographs and more information about Beatrix Potter’s life and work.
“The use of invented dialogue makes this problematic as straight biography, but it is nevertheless a charming, delightful homage.” —Kirkus Reviews starred review
In this delightful romp, the early life of Beatrix Potter, author and illustrator of the beloved The Tale of Peter Rabbit, comes to life through beautiful watercolor illustrations and very Potter-esque prose in Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig. We are introduced to Beatrix Potter and her menagerie of pets when she is a young girl whose writing and drawing skills are blossoming. When she asks her next-door neighbor to borrow a guinea pig for a model, Miss Paget is most flattered when she chooses the most regal of her pigs, “Queen Elizabeth”. With a promise to return Queen Elizabeth unharmed in the morning, Beatrix sets off to paint one of her most famous pieces of art. Disaster strikes when Beatrix gets distracted from her work and the young girl must break the news to her kindly neighbor. The tale comes to a close with a cheeky reminder to readers of what to do if you lend out a pet (you’ll have to read the book to read the author’s advice).
Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig is written by Deborah Hopkinson who chose to write in a style similar to Beatrix Potter, known for developing ideas for stories from picture letters. The story itself contains some snippets of information about Beatrix Potter’s early life. While it is never explicitly mentioned, the author cleverly drops hints as to Ms. Potter’s privileged background. We learn that Beatrix Potter had an unusual menagerie of pets (including lizards, snakes, rabbits, hedgehogs, ducks, and birds) who often meet with tragic endings. You can imagine the fate of the guinea pig, I’m sure. At the back of the book, the reader is treated to the story behind a painting of a guinea pig by Beatrix Potter which sold for $85,000 in 2011.
The watercolor illustrations by Charlotte Voake are inspired by Beatrix Potter’s own style and are the highlight of the book. The combination of full-page scenes depicting life at 2 Bolton Gardens in London, as well as the smaller pictures of Ms. Potter’s many animals, and the re-creations of the picture letters illustrated by Potter herself really help to bring the story alive. Worthy of mention are the sturdy book cover and thick, tear-resistant pages making the book itself likely to withstand repeated page-turning.
I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the book. Overall, I really enjoyed the presentation of the book (i.e., the gorgeous illustrations) and the writing style of the book as well as the story itself, but after reading the P.S. (Author’s Note), I was disappointed. You see, the author changed Potter’s age from 26 to perhaps around 10 (I don’t believe her age is mentioned in the story). That really changed things for me. I can understand that the intent was to tell the (mostly true) story about this famous painting which sold for $85,000 but when I read that she actually wasn’t a little girl but a grown woman … well … I went “Oh.” I felt misled. If I was reading the book to a child, I would just read the story and not share that piece of information with them.
My Bottom Line: Overall, Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig is a light-hearted, whimsy-filled story using Beatrix Potter’s classic story-telling prose and realist style of watercolor painting to capture the imagination of young readers. I recommend this book for children ages 5 to 10 and I think it would make a great read-aloud book for classroom teachers or school librarians.
* This book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own. *
About the Author and Illustrator
Deborah Hopkinson is the author of many highly acclaimed picture books, including Annie and Helen; A Boy Called Dickens; Sky Boys: How They Built the Empire State Building, a Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Book; and Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale, an ALA-ALSC Notable Children’s Book. She lives in Oregon with her family. Visit her at deborahhopkinson.com.
Charlotte Voake has written and illustrated numerous picture books, among them Ginger and its prequel, Ginger Finds a Home. Her other titles include Tweedle Dee Dee and Hello Twins, a New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year. She lives and works in the UK.