Beatrix Potter and the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
by Deborah Hopkinson; illustrated by Charlotte Voake
I picked this up because of Beatrix Potter, of course! It's a tale based on a story told in one of Beatrix Potter's journals, which was discovered and decoded by an engineer and drawing collector in 1966. It's also based on one of Beatrix Potter's watercolor drawings, one of a guinea pig that sold at auction in 2011 for more than $85,000. I wish that drawing had been larger, not just a tiny thumbnail image in the back of the book; it's definitely the inspiration for the guinea pig in the story, and it's quite cute as well.
The story left me feeling terrible, actually. Sure, the title should have tipped me off that it wasn't going to end well, but I always associate Beatrix Potter with loving animals and preserving nature. I didn't really need or want this story telling me all about the animals that she and her brother killed. In this case, she borrows a guinea pig of fine pedigree from a neighbor in order to draw it. When she's not there to watch it, the guinea pig eats the paper, string, and paste on her table and dies overnight. Poor baby! She gives a drawing she did of it to the owner, who was not happy. And that's the end. That might or might not be the drawing that was sold for so much money. And the story depicts Beatrix Potter as a little girl, when apparently she was twenty-six when this happened. That makes it even worse! What a sad little story. I really feel for these animals, especially the guinea pig and the baby bat and the whole family of snails.
The illustrations are pretty, and they aren't meant to be Beatrix Potter's style. But I couldn't help feel saddened by the story, despite the lovely drawings.