Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig by Deborah Hopkinson and illustrated by Charlotte Voake. Schwartz and Wade, 2016. 44 pages.
What It Is: Part historical fiction and part picture book biography about Beatrix Potter
What It’s About: Beatrix Potter kept copious journals as a child, writing them in a secret code. She also loved to draw and paint. Hopkinson takes stories and anecdotes from the journals to recreate a story based on the truth. She changes some facts (such as Potter’s age) to make the story more engaging. Essentially, Potter (a young child in Hopkinson’s version) borrows a guinea pig to paint it. Tragedy strikes, and the guinea pig owner is not happy.
What Works: The format of this book is lovely. Voake’s illustration style, although looser and less precise than Potter’s, is still reminiscent of Potter’s, especially in the palette used. Hopkinson’s text is charming, taking the form of a letter to the reader much like Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit started out. Solid back matter includes a select bibliography, source credits, plus a mini biography of Potter complete with photographs.
What Doesn’t Work: I’m on the fence about the tweaking Hopkinson did with the facts. Making Potter a young girl instead of a 20-something year old woman certainly makes the story of the guinea pig more interesting to children. And I think Hopkinson keeps the spirit of Potter’s childhood intact. And yet, can we call this a biography if it changes significant details?
What I Think: I like it. This is a lovely little picture book to share with children who are enjoy Potter’s own stories. Hopkinson humanizes Potter, and children will enjoy this story even if they don’t know who Beatrix Potter is.
What I Recommend: Share this with the children in your life as a read aloud, especially with ages 3-8. Encourage the older children to look up extra information on Potter. A must buy? Probably not; check with your local library first.