[review + recipe] Beatrix Potter, Scientist by Lindsay H. Metcalf and Junyi Wu

Sometimes in late summer, especially after we‘ve had a lot of rain, giant white mushrooms sprout up in our woods. Their tops can grow as large as dinner plates if the deer don’t take a bite out of them first.

They seem quite magical; I like to imagine fairies or gnomes using the flat mushroom tops as writing desks or tabletops, happily setting out their acorn teacups for special guests.

I actually became more interested in mushrooms about 20 years ago after learning about Beatrix Potter’s fascination with fungi, and then seeing her incredibly beautiful botanical drawings.

While most everyone knows Beatrix as the author and illustrator of the Peter Rabbit books, and perhaps as an ardent conservationist who helped preserve some 4,000 acres of pristine countryside in the Lake District, few may know she was also a dedicated naturalist who devoted about a decade of her life to mycology (the study of fungi), with a special interest in mushrooms.

I was understandably excited when Beatrix Potter, Scientist (Albert Whitman, 2020) came out last summer, because so far it’s the only picture book biography that takes a closer look at this lesser known aspect of Beatrix’s life.

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something to quack about

QUACK! 

Since spring is Beatrix Potter time in the Alphabet Soup kitchen, thought we’d serve up a blend of old and new, courtesy of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-duck. 

For the last several days, while trying to decide which stories to talk about, we heard a constant quacking in the butler’s pantry. Stray feathers drifted in whenever we opened the front door, and the odd egg or two would appear in unexpected places — next to the toaster, inside the oatmeal box, in front of the clock.

Quite curious, wouldn’t you say?

Well, Clever Cornelius knew eggsactly what was up: Jemima Puddle-duck was jockeying for the spotlight.

Not wanting to quash her quack, we decided to share a newish board book in which she appears with Peter Rabbit, in addition to her classic tale published in 1908. 

A SPRING SURPRISE

In A Spring Surprise, the fifth title in the  adorable Peter Rabbit Tale board book series by Fiona Munro and Eleanor Taylor (Frederick Warne, 2019), Peter and his family are busy preparing for an Easter picnic.

Everyone except Peter knows what they’re bringing. For Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail, it’s blackberry juice, wildflower garlands and jump ropes.

Wanting to bring something just as perfect, Peter goes around asking for suggestions. His mother, who’s making sandwiches, suggests “something sweet,” while Benjamin Bunny (busy with his kite) is in favor of “something fun.” Squirrel Nutkin tells him to “take something that’s a bit different.”

Well, this only makes Peter feel worse because he can’t think of anything sweet, fun, or different . . . until he suddenly spots something small and yellow amongst the bluebells. A flower? No, it’s moving! A butterfly?

“QUACK!”

Ooh, a tiny duckling! He scoops it right up. As he scampers along the path, he sees another, then another and another! Peter knows these ducklings belong to Jemina Puddle-duck, who must be worried sick. When he shows up with them at the picnic, Jemima is ecstatic, and everyone claps and cheers. Peter definitely couldn’t have brought anything sweeter, more fun or different to the picnic. 🙂

Now, despite the missing ducklings, Jemima really likes this story because she gets to do some quazy joyous quacking at the end, and the appearance of her four ducklings kinda picks up right where The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck leaves off.

Do you recall that somewhat harrowing farmyard tale?

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[review + yummy cake recipe] Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda E. Marshall and Ilaria Urbinati

 

Once upon another time, I was lucky enough to visit England’s glorious Lake District, where vistas of pristine lakes, rolling green pastures dotted with sheep, lush vales, charming stone cottages, miles of slate and dry stone walls bordering fertile farmland, and magnificent fells rising in the distance took my breath away.

I was curious to see the area after learning that England’s greatest poets and writers had flocked there for three centuries. Though studying the Romantic poets in college had stirred my wanderlust (my “friends” Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge, Blake, and Byron enabled me to envision this paradise on earth), it wasn’t until I fully tuned into Beatrix Potter’s connection with Lakeland that I became totally smitten. Visiting Hill Top Farm made me a forever diehard fan.

 

Hill Top Farm, Near Sawrey

 

Beatrix didn’t just love the countryside, she helped preserve it for future generations. And she established this amazing legacy at a time when it was not proper for women to “travel, attend college, or work.” Her groundbreaking accomplishments are highlighted in this wonderful new picture book, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit, by Linda Elovitz Marshall and Ilaria Urbinati (little bee books, 2020).

Young readers will find it interesting that in addition to writing the beloved Peter Rabbit books, Beatrix was also a natural scientist, savvy businesswoman, sheep farmer, and ardent conservationist.

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lettuce celebrate easter with beatrix potter’s flopsy bunnies (+ 2 recipes!)

Spring is finally here and Easter’s coming up this weekend — which means it’s time for a little Beatrix Potter!

Always fun to reread her little Peter Rabbit books and play with the Beswick porcelain figurines that wait patiently all year in the butler’s pantry cupboard. Take us out, they say. Dust us off and take our picture!

Who will be in the spotlight this time?

Hmmmm. Last year we wrote about The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley. Most everyone knows Peter’s story and its sequel featuring Peter’s cousin Benjamin Bunny, who returns with him to Mr. McGregor’s garden to get Peter’s clothes back.

Potter followed that adventure with The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies (1909), that’s about Benjamin and Peter all grown up. Benjamin is now married to Peter’s sister Flopsy and they have six children “generally called the ‘Flopsy Bunnies.'” We soon learn that lettuce will play a key role in this story. 🙂

It is said that the effect of eating too much lettuce is ‘soporific.’

I have never felt sleepy after eating lettuces; but then I am not a rabbit.

They certainly had a very soporific effect upon the Flopsy Bunnies!

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a little tale of beatrix potter and canon hardwicke rawnsley (+ a recipe for Lakeland Lemon Bread)

 

Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits —
and their names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter.

They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.

‘Now my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor.’

So begins the story of Peter Rabbit, the most beloved bunny in children’s literature. It’s likely this charming tale will be enjoyed during family Easter celebrations on both sides of the pond this weekend.

Refreshments may include blackberries and milk, currant buns, lettuces, radishes, parsley and camomile tea. Other favorite Potter characters such as Benjamin Bunny, Tom Kitten, Jemima Puddle-duck, and Mrs. Tiggy-winkle may also get their fair share of attention, but what about Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley?

Who?

Well, it’s time you knew (if you don’t already). 🙂

Rawnsley wrote the “other” Tale of Peter Rabbit. Yes, there actually was another version. And it was written in verse!

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