Review of Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig, by Deborah Hopkinson

Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

By Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Schwartz & Wade Books, New York, 2016. 40 pages.
Starred Review

This charming picture book tells a slightly fictionalized account of what happened when Beatrix Potter borrowed a neighbor’s prized guinea pig in order to paint it. The main fictionalization is that the author changed Beatrix Potter’s age to be a child when this incident happened, rather than the 26-year-old she actually was.

But the story is based on truth – Beatrix Potter kept many different animals as pets – and sad fates befell many of them. And when Beatrix borrowed a guinea pig named Queen Elizabeth from her neighbor, it did feast on blotting paper and string, writing paper and paste – and died.

Deborah Hopkinson shows Beatrix giving her neighbor a painting of the guinea pig as compensation. She says she hopes she kept it because in 2011, a painting Beatrix Potter made of a guinea pig – probably painted the same year as the unfortunate borrowing – sold for more than $85,000.

The book is styled as a letter to the reader, which is appropriate since Beatrix Potter’s first stories appeared in letters. The words and watercolors are charming.

“I would love to draw Queen Elizabeth,” declared Beatrix. “She is truly magnificent.”

Her friend beamed. “Her family is indeed impeccable. Queen Elizabeth comes from a long line of distinguished guinea pigs. She is the daughter of Titwillow the Second, and a descendant of the Sultan of Zanzibar and the Light of Asia.”

You might well think the young ladies were discussing royalty, not rodents. In the end, Miss Paget was so flattered by Miss Potter’s appreciation of the merits of Queen Elizabeth that she eagerly fetched the squealing creature.

“Thank you,” said Beatrix. “I will return her – unharmed – in the morning.”

Alas, it was an empty promise.

I’m not quite sure how Deborah Hopkinson has made a story about animals dying so utterly delightful, but she has managed it!

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

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