In this episode we discuss the interesting life of Beatrix Potter and her wonderful children’s books. We also discuss picture books about the earth, conservation, and nature, and a book for Christian parents about environmentalism.
Books Discussed in This Episode:
Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. This week, we celebrate Beatrix Potter because her birthday is Wednesday. I just wanted to spend this episode talking about her life and her writing and the wonderful books she left us and to also discuss conservation as a Christian. She was very interested in conservation and science, taking care of the land and preserving the land for the people and for nature. Her books all encompass nature and the creatures that she saw in nature and that she had as pets. So I want to talk a little bit about that and some great picture books we can read with our children about how we can take care of the earth. So let’s get started.
First of all, we know that Beatrix Potter has several children’s books that everyone has loved for many years. Her stories are so delightful. Some of the words, and some of the way things were said, of course are quite old now. And we may have to explain a few things to our children. Some of my favorites of her tales are The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tailor of Gloucester, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck. Both Benjamin Bunny and Peter Rabbit were dealing with the issues of obedience and making wise choices, and also the influence of friends who can get us to do things we shouldn’t do. In The Tailor of Gloucester, it’s reminiscent of the mice in Disney’s Cinderella, where they have the little outfits on and help make the waistcoat that the man is making for a wedding, and he becomes ill and he can’t do it. The mice make it for him. And so it’s a really sweet story. Kind of reminds me of the Cinderella story a little bit, and also reminds me of The Elves and the Shoemaker where the elves help him make shoes.
But there is a lot of archaic language that will be a little difficult. And you’ll have to explain to your children, or maybe just read it and then tell it in your own words to your kids; that would be fun. And that would be special. Her pictures, of course, are beautiful. She did watercolor painting and illustrated her own books. All of her stories have some sort of a message to them–some sort of a lesson that she’s sharing through this telling of the story. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin reminds me of Samson in the Bible, in his foolishness, in his pride. The squirrel is very disrespectful and does not show respect to his elders and is always just spouting off riddles. And he almost gets eaten, but he escapes, but he gets himself into some serious trouble. The rest of his life, he lives with a little stubby tail because he loses his tail in the process. So it’s got a lot to talk about in that book about pride and respect. In The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, she listens to the wrong person and takes advice from the wrong person and nearly loses her eggs because of it. So she’s a very foolish duck. But all of these stories are just so sweet and so fun to read. And they’ve been popular for over a hundred years with children of all ages. And I think it’s wonderful that she has left us such a legacy of these great stories. And then a few years ago, I guess it’s been about five years now, they found another manuscript that she had not previously published, and it’s called The Tale of Kitty in Boots. And that one is now available for us to read.
There are also several wonderful books that are biographies, but one of my favorites of the biographies is the one by Melissa Sweet. I mentioned her last week on our podcast about E. B. White, because I liked her biography about E. B. White. Her one about Beatrix Potter is A Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art and Letters. Now, the interesting thing about this book: it is not your typical biography, but it shows her life and her stories illustrated by more than 30 of today’s favorite children’s book illustrators. It’s fun to see what other artists do with her stories. We have a drawing by Peter H. Reynolds and it’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit with his illustrations, which it’s just kind of cool to see another artist’s interpretation of the story. And then Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Brian Pinkney, Brendan Wenzel. I love his illustrations. He says, “For any child like myself who’s spent almost all their time outside, Beatrix Potter’s world was a gift. Carrying her characters and stories with me as I trumped off into the forest, allowed a young explorer to infuse every hollow and thicket with possibility and magic. But perhaps just as importantly, with familiarity. With Jeremy Fisher and Peter Rabbit, somewhere out there in the world, a kid like me felt braver, testing those limits and wandering a bit farther from home.” And these are just really beautiful illustrations from all these wonderful children’s lit illustrators. It’s not so much telling us all the facts about her life as much as it’s telling us testimonies of the influence she had on these writers’ and illustrators’ lives.
There are several other biographies that are fun to check out. One is Who Was Beatrix Potter by Sarah Fabiny. It was illustrated by Mike Lacey. It’s a very well-written biography. And then we have a couple of other biographies that are geared toward children, Saving the Countryside: The Story of Beatrix Potter and Peter Rabbit by Linda Marshall and illustrated by Ilaria Urbinati. And this one is a really special book that just beautifully depicts her life and what was important to her and written in picture book form.
And then another one I wanted to share is Beatrix Potter, Scientist (She Made History). And this one’s by Lindsay H. Metcalf and illustrated by Junyi. Wu. This one talks more about her interest in science and her love for nature. It says, “Before Beatrix Potter wrote the Peter Rabbit stories, she was a girl of science. As a child Beatrix roamed the Scottish countryside, collecting nature, specimens, sketching, flowers, and even studying animal skeletons. As a young adult, she was an amateur mycologist presenting her research on mushrooms and fungi to England’s foremost experts, but like many women of her time, she struggled for recognition in the scientific community. This inspiring story sheds new light on the beloved author and artist, as she strove to find a place in the world for her remarkable talents.” So this is the introductory page of this book. “You may know this girl or who she’ll become–someone who makes pictures of cuddly animals and writes your bedtime stories, but there’s more to her story.” So it’s really kind of a fun book. And then at the end of the book, they have a timeline that shows what happened in her life. And so that’s kind of fun to have that history outlined where you can follow her life story.
One other one I wanted to share about her that’s a very cute picture book is called Beatrix Potter and Her Paint Box. This one tells her story about her art, and it’s written by David McPhail, and he is the author and the illustrator.
Now, as I said, Beatrix Potter was a conservationist. She was a naturalist. She cared about nature and preserving the land and not having it all developed and losing the beauty of these farms and the beautiful land around this lake where she loved to go. So I wanted to share a few picture books that we can share with our children about conserving our world and taking care of our world. And I think some books go too far and you start getting into some very weird, almost new age ideas. You know, God gave us this earth and we need to be thankful for the creation he gave us. And in Romans, it tells us that when we look at nature, we see the fingerprints of God, and we know he exists. It’s called general revelation, where he has revealed himself to us through nature. So we know there is a creator. When God gave Adam and Eve the command to take care of the earth, we need to also take on this responsibility as good Christian stewards–to respect the earth and to take care of what God has given us. Not that we want to treat the earth as mother earth and as something that has a spirit, but to respect that this is a gift from our creator and our heavenly father, and we’re to take care of it and to be responsible for it. That’s what I want us to be able to share with our children. So I have a few books to share with you.
One is called Yara’s Tawari Tree. There’s three books in this series, but this one is Yara’s Tawari Tree. She is in the rainforest and helps save this tree from when some of the rainforest is being cut down. She takes this one tree, digs it up carefully, and takes it to her home, and plants it back by her house. And she and her mom helped grow several of these kinds of trees. And at one point she becomes ill. It’s from the bark on this tree that they can create a medicine that helped her to be well. One of the reasons we try so hard to conserve our rainforests is because many of our medicines, even today, come from plants in the rainforest. And so we don’t want to lose that wonderful resource God has given us. We want to be careful to take care of it. This is Yara’s Tawari Tree written by Yassi Lapid, and illustrated by Joanna Pasek.
This next book is not specifically about conservation, but it is such a celebration of nature and how we use so much of nature just to live our lives that I wanted to include it. It’s called Outside In by Deborah Underwood and illustrated by Cindy Derby. And it’s just a wonderful little book. It’s about when we’re inside, nature is like calling to us–when the sun is coming through the window, when a bug gets into the house, it reminds us that there’s nature outside.
Another book along those lines is an Exploring Nature Activity Book for Kids: 50 Creative Projects to Spark Curiosity in the Outdoors. And this one is wonderful. If you’re wanting to do some scientific observation to help your children keep a journal, what they’ve seen and to get out and explore, and kind of like Beatrix Potter did, draw the things they see in nature and keep a record of what they see.
Some that deal specifically with conservation and making good choices: I love this one because it is so lyrical is The Mess That We Made. And this is by Michelle Lord and illustrated by Julia Blattman. And this starts out with, “This is the mess that we made. These are the fish that swim in the mess that we made.” And then each page builds on the statement and keeps repeating. So it has this repetitive pattern, and it keeps adding to the story. But this is a story about the great Pacific garbage patch and how the currents have brought all this garbage to kind of make this patch or island of garbage in the middle of the Pacific ocean. And then it talks about the animals and the different things, and it just keeps building on the first sentence and carries it through. And it also talks about how we can make a difference. And that’s one thing I loved about this one. It isn’t a doom and gloom and awfulness book. It’s telling this is what has happened. And then it ends with, this is what we can do, and every person can make a difference. And so that’s really nice. And then the other books I’ve chosen are the same way.
This next one is not specifically about conservation. It’s just about thinking about what we do, that our actions have consequences. That maybe we don’t think it’ll be any big deal. We do something, but what if everybody did that? And that’s what this one’s called. What If Everybody Did That by Ellen Javarnick and Colleen M. Madden. It talks about littering, being noisy in the middle of a story time, and all kinds of things. And then at the end it says, and if you hug your mom, what if everybody did that in everybody hugged their moms or hugged each other? Of course, the world would be a better place if everybody hugged each other, but it’s just a very cute book. And it would be a really good one for kids to think about what are the consequences of my actions. And then what if other people did the same action and how it would exponentially multiply and cause chaos and terrible things.
We have another one that’s a really cute counting book and it’s called 1, 2, 3. Who’s Cleaning the Sea by Janina Rossiter. And it is a counting book and goes through the pollution and things that might be in the ocean. And it talks about some ocean creatures. So again, this is about pollution and the ocean, and then what we can do to make it better.
Another one that I really love is The Brilliant Deep. This is one by Kate Messner, and this one’s illustrated by Matthew Forsythe. And this is the story about a man who helped rebuild the world’s coral reefs. It’s such a neat story. Ken Nedimyer who has helped to rebuild the coral reefs, starting in the Florida Keys, and then now goes all over the world. He’s found a way to help rebuild our reefs. And they’re such an important part of the ocean and the life in the ocean. This is just a really nice picture book of his experience in his life–how one person can make a difference.
I wanted to share one more picture book with you that I just recently came across. And it is such a wonderful book. It is called Once Upon Another Time written by Matt Forrest Esenwine and Charles Ghigna and the illustrated by Andres F. Landazabal. This book is so special. It talks about long ago before there were big cities and all of the industry and everything that we have in the world today, that there were beautiful sunrises and sunsets and mountains. And it just celebrates nature. It talks to the child of today who may not be in love with nature, who may not know what a wonder it is to be out in the world and in nature and calls that child to come out and experience the joy of nature and to get out of the house and to see what our planet has–the wonder of the creation that God made. And the illustrations are beautiful. The book is very special. Even though it’s not technically about conservation, it’s one that I think Beatrix Potter would have appreciated in how it celebrates the wonderful gift of creation.
And then I wanted to share one other very intriguing book for you as parents, for adults, it’s called Should Christians Be Environmentalists by Dan Story. And I’ve been reading this book. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but it’s very interesting to show the history of environmentalism conservationism and how we started out with a movement in the seventies, prompted from the sixties that never really took hold in our American culture. Like Dan’s Story, I agree that the Christians should be the ones who are leading the charge that we need to take care of the earth, be responsible, be good stewards for it. I was thinking as I was preparing this podcast that the individual can make such a difference. We can make a difference in teaching our children. We can make a difference in our community. We can make a difference in our own block that we live on. If we help to pick up trash, we can make a difference. And it really is something that needs to be a grassroots, each family taking responsibility, sort of thing. It needs to be something that every person wants to take responsibility for. I would love to see Christians out of gratitude for what God has given us, taking up the charge, by example, and by what we teach, to be responsible and to be good stewards of the wonderful creation God has given us in the show notes. I will also include some articles that you can read. There are many people who believe that Christians don’t care about the earth. They don’t care about conservation. And I do think sometimes that we are so focused on spirituality and living our lives as Christians and sharing the gospel and those kinds of things that we may not spend as much time thinking about the earth and what we need to do in being good stewards of our world. But I do believe there are more Christians involved in conservation than we realize. And there are many scientists who are Christians who teach about how we can conserve our world and take care of it. And we need to really look with wisdom and real understanding and look at all of the information that is out there to know what is the best way to be a good conservationist and a good naturalist, and to be a good steward of our world today.
Our devotional is from the Indescribable devotional by Louie Giglio. This one deals with the Pacific garbage patch. This is the devotional 84 called “One Big Mess.” “If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins. We can trust God. He does what is right. He will make us clean from all the wrongs we have done.” And that’s 1 John 1:9 from the ICB Bible. “In the middle of the Pacific ocean there’s a nasty spot called the great Pacific garbage patch. It was formed as garbage got caught up in the ocean currents that swirl in kind of a giant circle between Hawaii and Japan though. It’s sometimes called a garbage island. It’s actually more like a garbage soup made up of lost fishing nets, bags, bottles, and tiny bits of plastic. It’s at least the size of Texas may be bigger. The garbage patch is dangerous because birds, turtles and other sea animals get tangled in it, or mistake it for food. As many as 1 million seabirds and 10,000 other sea animals die in it, or because of it every year, probably no one gave a thought to that water bottle. They tossed off the boat or to the plastic bag that blew away with the wind. They’re just little things after all, but the great Pacific garbage patch proves that little things can add up to a big mess. And so can sin. You might not think that one little fib about forgotten homework would matter or that it would make a difference to watch that TV show all your friends are watching, even though your parents said not to, but little sins, little ways you take part in the evil of this world, add up. And before you know it, you’ve got one big miss. Avoid the mess by avoiding the sin. It’s much easier than trying to clean up a garbage patch.”
“Lord, help me to stay away from the little sins so that I can stay out of big messes.” How Great: “You can help keep the garbage patch and other pollution spots from getting bigger by not using so many throw away plastics like plastic forks, cups and plates, use cloth shopping bags instead of plastic, grab a reusable water bottle instead of the throwaway ones, recycle plastics as much as you can because all of us doing little good things adds up to big improvements.”
Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions. As we disciple our children and help them to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to join my mailing list and get notifications when I post a new blog post or a new podcast, you can sign up on my website at TerrieHellardBrown.com. I would love to have you join my mailing list. And when you sign up, you also have access to some free items that only people on my mailing list have access to. And please be sure to share this podcast with your friends. We would appreciate it very much, and it would help this ministry to grow. And hopefully your friends will appreciate the information as well. We want very much to bless you and your family and your children with what we share on this podcast.
Links to Articles and Videos:
If you want the stories in one volume, check this one out: The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit
Article: “Why Conservation Is a Gospel Issue”
Movie about Beatrix Potter starring Renee Zellweger: Miss Potter
Documentary about Beatrix Potter: Beatrix Potter: Artist, Storyteller, and Countrywoman
Interesting videos on conservation and energy from PragerU:
Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.
Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.
Her blog posts are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.
For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com
Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.
Her motto is “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.