It’s a big day for Beatrix Potter fans: The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots is officially out in the world (UK release September 1, U.S. release September 6)!
Ever since we first heard tell of this book back in January, all of us here in the Alphabet Soup kitchen have been counting down the days, hours, and minutes to this much anticipated event.
After all, it’s not every day that a long lost manuscript written over 100 years ago by such a beloved author is rediscovered and brought to life with brand new illustrations by celebrated illustrator Quentin Blake.
Potter wrote The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots in 1914, but had not finished illustrating it. Two years ago, editor and publisher Jo Hanks stumbled upon a reference to Kitty’s story in a letter from Beatrix to her publisher in an out-of-print collection of her writings. In the Warne archive at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Hanks found three Kitty-in-Boots manuscripts — two handwritten in children’s school notebooks and one typeset in dummy form — along with a colored sketch of Kitty and a pencil rough of foxy arch-villain Mr. Tod.
It certainly looked as though Potter had every intention of publishing the story. Other letters refer to “interruptions” that could have prevented her from finishing the project (the start of WWII, illness, death of her father, marriage, sheep farming,).
When deciding upon an illustrator, Hanks knew it had to be Blake:
Quentin revels in rebellious characters and humorous stories with a spiky edge to them; he’s brought anarchic energy to the character of Kitty and embellished her already endearingly flawed character with his trademark wit and charm. Exactly what this fantastic book was calling out for!
I think it was a wise decision, as Blake’s style is vastly different from Potter’s, and any attempt by another illustrator to replicate Potter’s art would have invited disappointment. This version of The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots represents a brilliant blend of old and new, and is sure to please Potter fans of all ages.
So, what’s the story about?
🐱 HERE, KITTY KITTY 🐰
Once upon a time there was a serious, well-behaved young black cat.
Her owner, a kind old lady, would have been quite shocked if she knew her seemingly purrrfect puss actually led a double life!
By day, a good Kitty, but at night this furtive feline snuck out to go a-hunting all decked out in a Norfolk jacket, britches, and little fur-lined boots. With a confidence and haughtiness typical of her breed, she called herself “Miss Catherine St. Quintin,” yet she hung out with a pair of very (gasp!) common cats (Cheesebox and Winkiepeeps — great names, yes?).
Now, one would assume Kitty would be an ace hunter — it is, after all, a matter of instinct with these catty types. Not so with Kitty, who managed to turn a promising moonlight expedition into a comedy of misadventure (the plan was for Kitty and Winkiepeeps to join two ferrets who were after rabbits).
Right off the bat, Kitty scared away poor Winkiepeeps when her air-gun accidentally went off. She was hopeless at shooting mice (it would have helped to load the pellets and not mistake sticks and stones for prey). She fled from a herd of mountain sheep and “rocketing” crows, shot a hole through Mrs. Tiggy-winkle’s washing, and even managed to hit one of the poaching ferrets (she scratched and spat at his companion for seizing her gun).
Nothing to do but follow the ferrets, who managed to bag a few tasty young rabbits before one of them was rudely forced out of the burrow by a certain stout rabbit in a blue jacket who continually prodded him with an umbrella. In the confusion Kitty retrieved her gun, and along with the ferrets, tracked that fat rabbit, who continued to defiantly brandish his umbrella as he made his way through the woods.
As luck would have it, the ferrets stepped into one of Mr. Tod’s traps, and the rabbit, quite satisfied, turned to go home. Any sensible cat would have done the same. But no, not Kitty. She was a poacher! She must follow that rabbit!
I’m sorry to report that after stalking the rabbit hither and yon, Kitty herself jumped right into one of Mr. Tod’s traps. She was stuck there all night, and when Mr. Tod finally came round, he was very keen on adding Kitty’s black cat-skin to his collection of furs. *shiver*
Did Kitty once again fire her weapon? Who was it that finally saved the day? What of Winkiepeeps, Kitty’s trusty doppelgänger, who was now missing part of his tail? And did that well-behaved black cat finally learn her lesson and give up poaching once and for all?
This gift of vintage Potter is the perfect way to celebrate her 150th birthday this year. Her wry humor and brilliant storytelling skills are on full display. I’ve always appreciated how she humanizes her characters without sacrificing their essential animal natures. Never sentimental, her stories usually have a dark edge, reminding us that a little peril is a natural part of life.
In The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, predator becomes prey. We’re never quite sure if, and how, Kitty will conquer her misguided penchant for poaching. We applaud her determination and are intrigued by her dual identity, one as a prim and proper domestic, the other, as a manly booted rebel driven by her primal nature.
Quentin Blake has captured Kitty in all her proud, fumbling, single-minded glory. Whether donned in her long pink house dress or natty hunting outfit, her riotous personality is skillfully displayed with great energy and humor.
And how fabulous to have old friends Peter Rabbit, Mr. Tod, and Mrs. Tiggy-winkle make an appearance (Tabitha Twitchit and Ribby in a brief cameo)! Aside from Kitty herself, my favorite illustrations are those of Peter Rabbit. He’s older, definitely portlier, and there’s just something about the way he brandishes that umbrella; when open, “it bobbitted along under the bushes like a live mushroom.” 🙂
It seems fated that Mr. Blake illustrate this story. As he himself notes, there’s the coincidence of Kitty’s surname being “St. Quintin,” and the fact that he’s also been called “Q” for much of his life, just as Kitty is called “Q” by Cheesebox.
Initially, I was surprised the book was published in a standard 8″ x 10″ trim size, since it does fit in nicely with Potter’s 23 little Peter Rabbit books. But since it includes a wonderful CD of Helen Mirren (!) reading the story, it actually makes perfect sense.
Interesting side notes: Shortly before the book’s forthcoming publication was announced, a family approached the V&A Museum requesting information about a couple of drawings they suspected might be Potter’s work.
It turns out one of them clearly shows Kitty-in-Boots, in the scene where Peter Rabbit is prodding Slimmy Jimmy with his umbrella. The odd thing is that the scene takes place in daylight rather than at night. Did Beatrix make a mistake? Was she considering a different storyline? In any case, this discovery suggests that perhaps Potter had finished more illustrations for the tale than was previously thought. 🙂
And, just to clarify, though this is the first time The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots has been published as a stand alone title, it’s not the first time the story is appearing in print. It appears in Leslie Linder’s A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter (1971) along with her other unpublished work.
🐭 LOVE DEM LITTLE MOUSIES! 🐭
To celebrate this momentous occasion, Mr. Cornelius and the Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers whipped up a couple of mousie treats just for Kitty.
After all, she wasn’t a very good mouser, and left to her own devices with that rogue air-gun, she would probably starve to death. We leave it up to Kitty whether to share her treats with Cheesebox and Winkiepeeps.
For the “Miss Catherine St. Quintin” side of things, we’re serving up some classy cheese hors d’oeuvres, complete with sausage ears and red twizzler tails. These are best enjoyed in more formal attire.
For good old “Kitty,” supposedly serious and well-behaved, here are some chocolate cherry mice, a welcome sweet after a long night of hunting. There’s nothing like dark chocolate to restore one’s wits, particularly if you’ve lost a toe.
Finally, especially for Editor/Publisher Jo Hanks and illustrator Quentin Blake, some Kitty tuna tea sandwiches. Thank you for bringing us more of Beatrix Potter!
Here’s to Kitty-in-Boots!
THE TALE OF KITTY-IN-BOOTS
written by Beatrix Potter
illustrated by Quentin Blake
published by Frederick Warne/Penguin Random House, September 2016
Picture Book for ages 3-7, 72 pp.
*Includes CD of Helen Mirren reading the story
**Enjoy this extract from the CD:
♥ Other Beatrix Potter posts at Alphabet Soup:
- Beatrix Potter and The Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
- Of Guinea Pigs, Nursery Rhymes and Cupcakes
- Happy Birthday, Beatrix, or Cornelius Learns a Lesson
- Tea with Miss Potter
- Mrs. Tiggy-winkle Comes to Tea
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.