1st October '16
This is the revised edition of a book that was first published in 2002. It has been updated to coincide with and celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter's birth.
Whether you're a new Peter Rabbit fan or a long-standing Beatrix Potter devotee, this is the book for you. It's packed with glorious full-colour illustrations and photographs, and a wealth of information. I've long admired the way Dorling Kindersley produce non-fiction - they are leaders in the field - and this book is no exception. You could pore over it for hours or just dip in and delight over a few pages at a time. Its in-depth coverage of Beatrix Potter's life and work has been carefully researched and is presented in beautiful detail. The team at Dorling Kindersley were given generous access to the archives of Beatrix Potter's estate and so the book includes 300 artworks from her books and specially commissioned photographs of her Lake District home.
The book is divided into five sections and each double page spread is a different chapter. The first section focuses on Peter Rabbit. We learn about Beatrix keeping pet rabbits as a child and we see some of her childhood sketches of imaginary ice-skating rabbits. We discover how the tale of Peter Rabbit began as a letter to the poorly son of a friend. We follow the book's publication and success - with pages showing fan mail and some of the tie-in merchandise that has gone on sale over the years.
The next three sections in the book are dedicated to the other Beatrix Potter animals and their stories, in the order that they were written. We learn about the inspiration for the stories and the illustrations: people or animals that Beatrix had met, places she had visited, objects she or others owned. All the favourites are there - Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Mr Jeremy Fisher, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Squirrel Nutkin - but it's not just the more well-known characters who are included in the book, the lesser known characters have their chapters too. The chapters about the animal characters are punctuated with chapters about Beatrix's life: her doomed engagement, struggles with her parents, her home in the Lake District, marriage, farming and her conservation work with the National Trust.
The final section explores how the Peter Rabbit brand has grown and evolved in the 21st century - a website, app and CCGI TV series, Peter Rabbit baby clothing and baby food, re-issued Tales with jackets by iconic British and Irish fashion designers, and commemorative 50-pence coins, to name but a few examples.
I've really enjoyed this trip down memory lane - I loved reading Beatrix Potter's Tales as a child - and it's been fascinating to learn more about the stories behind the books too. I can wholeheartedly recommend The Ultimate Peter Rabbit.