Saturday, July 16, 2011

Remember Your Roots

Beatrix Potter is a somewhat unique addition to my list because her stories hold a lot of sentimental value for me. My grandmother (aka Honey Gram) loved Beatrix Potter so I can’t read these stories without thinking about her and how much it meant to have her share them with me. 

I did hesitate at first to add her to my Top 10 because I felt like it was purely based on emotions, but looking back I can see that both Honey Gram and Beatrix Potter had a large impact on how I have developed as a writer and more importantly as a person. As an adult I have lamented the fact that I didn’t take the time to learn more from my grandma, simple things such as knitting and baking, but she taught me something much bigger without me, maybe even without her, ever realizing it. She taught me how important it is to always maintain your sense of humor and a sense of child-like wonder. 

I’m going to ramble on a little more about my grandma here, but stick with me because it all ties back to Beatrix Potter…I promise.

Growing up, I loved spending time at my grandma’s house because there was always fun to be had. She taught me how to play cards, had shelves full of books, and introduced me to some of the best things on television…British comedies and MacGyver…that’s right, my grandma watched MacGyver (coolest grandma ever!). I knew that she enjoyed spending time with me, but I suppose part of me also believed she did it because it was her duty as my grandma. I didn’t make the connection at the time (who does when they are young) that this was how my grandma was teaching me who she was, not simply as a grandma, but as a fellow human being. 

I see the same thing now when I think about Beatrix Potter. Her stories are full of mischief, humor and nature (another thing my grandma loved) and that is why they appeal to children, but those elements are also there because those are the things that appealed to Potter. Those are the things that made her who she was at her core. Potter spent hours and hours just watching, drawing and eventually writing about the world around her. She had a true passion for nature and collected an assortment of pets, including rabbits which of course led to the beloved characters Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. 

*Fun fact: the story of Peter Rabbit was first written as a “picture letter” to cheer up a little boy who was sick.

Once published, Potter became an instant classic, The Tale of Peter Rabbit  has been in print ever since it was first published in 1902. I think it’s because her stories have such a genuine feel. There is a love and a quality that you rarely find in children’s books today. You can see it in the details!

I’m sure many people are familiar with Peter Rabbit, but if you haven’t read her other books you are missing out on so much. She wrote about mice, cats, squirrels, frogs, ducks, hedgehogs…and every single one has own personality. She was not a one-trick pony, that’s for sure! Her characters are so full of life and bring out such a sense of wonder that reaches you at any age it’s just amazing! Again, you rarely see a children's book with characters that have this kind of heart and natural spunk...especially when it comes to animals.

What I also love about Beatrix Potter is that she was a true environmentalist. She used the money she earned from her books to buy 16 farms and over 4,000 acres of land. She wanted to protect them from industrialization and ensure that future generations would be able to enjoy the natural landscapes through more than a painting or a book. This makes her someone that inspires me not only as a writer, but as a woman in general. The world needs more people like this! People who don’t shy away from who they are, who hold on to that youthful spirit and are compelled to share it with others. 

For my daughter’s first Christmas, Honey Gram gave her Peter Rabbit’s Giant Storybook, a collection of Beatrix Potter’s stories. It is a book that means so much to all of us because opening it brings out so much more than just the stories written on its pages, it brings out stories about our family.

Whether it is by writing a book or simply passing one along to our children and grandchildren, these are the things shape us…they make us who we are and teach us who we want to be.

"I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations." 
~ Beatrix Potter

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