Beatrix Potter, Beloved Children’s Author

The beloved children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit is well-known the world over, and has been ever since its publication in 1902. Its universal themes still apply today and charm both children and adults in its quaint tales of country life.

Author Beatrix Potter had an inspiring life for a woman born in the Victorian era. She developed her own hobbies enough to gain an independent living from them.

Beatrix holding her pet dog.

Beatrix holding her pet dog.

It all starts with Peter Rabbit’s origin. At fourteen years old, Beatrix bought a rabbit named Benjamin Bouncer. Three years later when Benjamin died, she bought another rabbit and named it Peter. In the same year, Beatrix wrote a letter to her late governess’s son Noel, telling an illustrated tale of Peter Rabbit for the first time.

At age thirty-five Beatrix privately published The Tale of Peter Rabbit for her family and friends. Beatrix had also sent the manuscript to six publishers, but each of them rejected her. However, the London firm of Frederick Warne & Co. finally accepted the manuscript and published it in 1902. It was instantly popular and sparked a total of twenty-three “little Tales”, all published by Warne publishing.

A portrait of Beatrix

A portrait of Beatrix

Beatrix was a clever businesswoman and used her stories to market products to the public. As early as 1903 she made and patented a Peter Rabbit doll, followed by other merchandise such as painting books, board games, wallpaper, figurines, baby blankets and china tea sets. From all this, Beatrix earned an independent income as well as profits from her publisher.

In 1905, Beatrix and Norman Warne, one of the brothers of the publishing house who had worked with Beatrix on her stories, got engaged against her parents’ wishes. However, it was not to be; Warne died of leukemia a month after his proposal. Beatrix threw herself into her work as a distraction.

Tale_of_peter_rabbit_12When she earned enough money from her books and received a legacy from an aunt, Beatrix bought Hill Top Farm in 1905, a property in the tiny village the Lake District in England. Beatrix’s interest in conservation first developed during her visit to the Lake District when she was sixteen and the local vicar impressed his views of the need for conservation on young Beatrix.

Esthwaite Water, which Beatrix called her “favorite lake” in England went for sale on eBay this year for 300,000 pounds. No word on any takers.

Chidlow Pond at Hill Top Farm.

Chidlow Pond at Hill Top Farm.

When Beatrix had earned enough money to buy farmland, love returned to her life. The property dealer, a local man named William Heelis, helped her with acquiring property and her efforts of conservation and they gradually developed feelings for each other. Beatrix’s parents once again opposed the match, but this time she ignored them and married William in October 1913. They remained together until Beatrix’s death in 1943.

Following Beatrix’s wishes, almost all her property at Hill Top was left to the National Trust, and fans of her work can now visit the property and see the settings for so many of her stories. Beatrix was also a huge conservationist and she is credited with preserving the land for what is now the Lake District National Park.

How Randolph Caldecott Influenced Book Award History

The Caldecott Medal: It graces the covers of beautiful, whimsical, and sometimes downright bizarre-looking children’s books.

Every year, notable children’s books illustrators receive receive the Caldecott Medal. Some recent winners are This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, and The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney. Each of these show originality, creativity and technical know-how in the field of illustration.

But what is the history of the Caldecott medal? When did we decide to recognize notable illustrators as well as authors?

Caldecott

It all starts with Randolph Caldecott, a popular illustrator in the mid-nineteenth century.

At the high point in Caldecott’s career, every Christmas for eight years Caldecott released two books priced at a shilling each, which children would eagerly anticipate. Think the nineteenth century equivalent of Harry Potter midnight releases, without the kids in wizard robes and oversized glasses.

Caldecott also illustrated more than children’s books; he drew comics, painted with watercolor, and illustrated novels and travel books. How’s that for a diverse resume?

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Caldecott’s most successful and famous books include The House that Jack Built and Nursery Rhymes which reached 867,000 copies by 1884, by which time he was famous all over the world.

But another of Caldecott’s illustrations would live on to be even more popular: the cover of The Diverting History of John Gilpin.

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In 1937 the Newbery Medal existed to honor children’s books. But soon, people began to realize that wasn’t quite enough.

That’s when Frederic G. Melcher stepped in to recognize great illustrators. And guess whose work stood high enough to represent all great children’s book illustrations? That’s right: Randolph Caldecott.

The American Library Association said “Why haven’t we done this before?” and quickly accepted Melcher’s proposal.

Caldecott’s illustration showing a man on a galloping horse from John Gilpin still graces the Caldecott medal for outstanding children’s book illustrations, and it’s a picture that has become recognizable to book lovers throughout the world. And that’s how Caldecott made history.

What’s your favorite book that has been awarded the Caldecott Medal?

An Artist Everybody Should Know About: Arthur Rackham

Looking for a way to instantly bring yourself back to childhood? How about a dose of Arthur Rackham?

Rackham was an English artist who illustrated books in the late 19th and early 20th century, taking advantage of the market for quality illustrated books at the time. You’ve seen him around. In postcards and calendars, coffee table books and greeting cards, Rackham’s art thrills fantasy lovers and art collectors alike. But why is it that Arthur Rackham, born in 1867, still excites the imagination to this day? Consider his mythological and folkloric inspiration.

Ravens

The Twa Corbies

With fairies, goblins, and elves, along with a masterful sense of movement and Germanic art style, a sense of wonder truly pours from his art. Sometimes his darker, gloomier tones illustrate the more mysterious sides of stories with gnarled, twisted trees or wizened faces.

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Young Beichan

Rackham’s style molded our modern interpretation of the Victorian aesthetic, when children were beginning to be recognized not as little adults but as people who still needed room to grow. Rackham started his work by sketching a drawing outline, putting in details, then going over the lines with India ink. He added color through multiple watercolor washes for translucent colors, although it has been suggested that color was a challenge for him, considering his insistence on subdued tones.

Rackham’s art was the perfect partner of the fanciful children’s books released at the time: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, The Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Hans Christian Andersen’s Tales, Aesop’s Fables and many more. His illustrations for A Midsummer Night’s Dream are considered one of his masterpieces.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

He also inspired many artists today, including director Guillermo del Toro, who cited Rackham’s art as inspiration for his film Pan’s Labyrinth. These days you can find his art on cards, postcards and calendars or, if you’re lucky, his illustrations in an original edition.

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Text decoration from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

What’s your favorite Arthur Rackham illustration?