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Tag Archives: Beatrix Potter

Review: The Further Tales of Peter Rabbit; Emma Thompson

The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit; Emma Thompson, illus. Eleanor Taylor

Published September 2012. F. Warne & Co. List price £12.99

Appropriate for ages 20 months and up

From the cover:

‘Peter Rabbit is in low spirits, what he needs is a change of scene. He squeezes under the gate into Mr McGregor’s garden intending to steal a lettuce – but what happens next is just the excitement that Peter is looking for.

He discovers a picnic basket and before Peter knows it he is in Scotland, and so the further tale of Peter Rabbit begins…’

Beatrix Potter’s series of 24 books, published between 1902 and 1930 are classics, enjoyed in childhood and beyond. Peter Rabbit, who made his first appearance in 1902 with The Tale of Peter Rabbit, is undoubtedly the most popular of Potter’s beloved characters. It is testament to the popularity of the naughty little rabbit and his creator that so many adaptations have been produced: from countless animated versions to a ballet, Beatrix Potter biopics, CD-ROMs & other digital media and myriad merchandise, they have been reproduced and absorbed in to our culture and recognised as a significant point in the history of children’s literature. The books are, unusually for the age, child-sized; the illustrations are designed to be read in conjunction with the text; even Potter’s merchandising of her characters was groundbreaking at the turn of the last century. Read the rest of this entry


Origins: Higgledy-Piggledy


Higgledy-piggledy, my black hen
She lays eggs for gentlemen,
Sometimes nine and sometimes ten,
Higgledy- piggledy, my black hen.

Also known with the following lyric:

Higgledy piggledy, my black hen
She lays eggs for gentlemen,
Sometimes nine and sometimes ten;
Gentlemen come every day
To see what my black hen has laid.

Albert Jack, whose book Pop Goes the Weasel: The Secret Meanings of Nursery Ryhmes is accurate as often as it is not, claims the rhyme is the narration of a brothel keeper or procuress, advertising the services of her girls.  Jack  notes the similarity to a more overtly lascivious rhyme:

Little Blue Betty lived in a den,
She sold good ale to gentlemen;
Gentlemen came every day,
And little Blue Betty hopped away.
She hopped upstairs to make her bed,
And she tumbled down and broke her head.

Which first appeared in Gamer Gurton’s Garland in 1810, and concerns a girl working ‘under the sign of The Golden Can’. Opie lists a number of similar examples which refer to women  providing allegorical services to “gentlemen”, so a precident is set. ‘Higgledy-Piggledy’ is the only rhyme of the set that refers to an aimal.

Latterly Ogden Nash has used the rhyme as the basis for a poem, as has Dorothy Parker, who gave her version a decidedly more political bent;

At a party where she was seated with Somerset Maugham, the author asked if she would write a poem for him. “I will if you like,” Miss Parker said, and scribbled out:

Higgledy Piggledy, my white hen;
She lays eggs for gentlemen.

“Yes, I’ve always liked those lines,” Mr. Maugham commented.

Miss Parker bestowed a cool smile and without an instant’s hesitation added:

You cannot persuade her with a gun or lariat;
To come across for the proletariat.

from Parker’s obituary in the New York Times, 1967

There are great numbers of permutations of ‘Higgledy-Piggledy’ – rhymes of a similar metre that reference trade and which begin  an assonant nonsense phrase.  They appear from the late eighteenth century onwards – even Beatrix Potter got in on the act. The version I began with seems to be the most popular, but competition is strong.

[Guest Post] Dr. Meg Barker on Winnie the Pooh.

EH Shepherd's Winnie the Pooh

EH Shepherd's Winnie the Pooh

I’ve asked some of my friends and favourite bloggers to write about their favourite books from childhood.  There’ll hopefully be a few posts like this – if I can convince other people to take up the challenge. If you’d like to join in, email me.

Today Dr Meg Barker, author and professional clever person, talks about character identification, relationships and getting the metaphorical jar off your head.


Trigger warning: discussion of relationship conflict and brief mention of abusive situations.

Tigger warning: not mentioned at all, sorry Tigger.

Some of my favourite stories from childhood were the Winnie-the-Pooh collections by A. A. Milne. Particularly I remember being read these tales by my Gran when she visited. They were an important part of our relationship.

I like the fact that different family relationships are linked, in my memory, to different stories. The stories both defined the storyteller, for me, and passed on something that shapes who I am today. My other Gran made up her own stories (rather like A. A. Milne did), whilst I associate my Mum with Beatrix Potter and my Dad with Sherlock Holmes. Both of these latter figures continued to resonate through my later life, Beatrix Potter through the wonderful Bryan Talbot graphic novel about survival, The Tale of One Bad Rat, and Sherlock Holmes as the characters of Holmes and Watson provided models, for me, of what it was possible to become, and what was important in a relationship. I love seeing the ways in which these characters are reinterpreted through each new movie, story, or TV programme, all of which capture something of them however different they are. Winnie-the-Pooh, however, only seems to work for me in the original.

As a child I think I enjoyed Winnie-the-Pooh particularly because in those stories a solitary kid was able to have an exciting life and lots of great relationships. Whist the stories of Enid Blyton, for example, left me feeling lonely and different for not having a wonderful gang of friends to go off on adventures with, Christopher Robin (in the books at least) was able to manage it for himself with his toys and his imagination. Perhaps for that reason they are a good set of stories for any kid who doesn’t fit.

The stories haven’t stopped being useful to me as I’ve grown older. Rather they’ve stayed alongside me, offering me something new at each stage. With several partners the tales have been a comforting mutual place to return when life becomes scary. There can hardly be a safer place for me than curled up under a duvet with a soothing voice telling about the hundred acre wood, haycorns, and expotitions. Read the rest of this entry

A potted history of children’s literature in English

Comenius; a page from Orbis Pictus


It begins with Orbis Pictus (The World in Pictures) written by Czech educator Comenius. Orbis Pictus isn’t a story book or novel, but it is the earliest example of a picture book for children. In essence it’s an encyclopaedia or text-book. Written first in German and published in 1658, it is translated into English the following year and by 1666 is available in Latin and French too.

In 1671/2 (sources differ on this detail) comes the exhaustively titled A Token for Children. Being An Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths of several Young Children. Written by James Janeway, a hardcore Puritan (is there any other type?), A Token for Children is an Evangelical tract. Heavily didactic, these stories are intended for instruction rather than enjoyment.

How art thou affected, poor Child, in the Reading of this Book? Have you shed ever a tear since you begun reading? Have you been by your self upon your knees; and begging that God would make you like these blessed Children? Or are you as you use to be, as careless & foolish and disobedient and wicked as ever?

From the preface to A Token for Children

This suggestion that children’s literature should be primarily didactic is not new; Plato writes in The Republic that educators should hire storytellers and poets who will censor the stories of the age to the suitability of children.

Up until now children are largely consuming the same literature as adults – the novel as a literary form has yet to be invented,  but bible stories, Greco-Roman myths and fables and folk-tales are popular. John Bunyan’s 100,000+ word Christian allegoryThe Pilgrims Progress  (1678) is thought particularly suitable for developing minds.

Read the rest of this entry