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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

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A potted history of children’s literature in English

Comenius; a page from Orbis Pictus

1600s

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.

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