In the process of comparing editions of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, I came across an edition called The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit. I was horrified by what I found.
According to the title page, The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1992 by HTS Books, an imprint of Forest House.
The book is marked “School & Library Edition.” That may just mean that it has been bound for heavy use, but it may also indicate that teachers use it in a classroom setting.
First, let me make clear why this edition so horrifies me.
Of all the wealth of English literature written in the course of a thousand years, Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit is one of the language’s greatest treasures. The style, story and pictures combine to form a perfect little work of art. I have often made it my first gift to babies of my acquaintance.
Potter’s Peter Rabbit is a child’s earliest introduction to beauty of color, form, and language. Why anyone would think it a good idea to alter the text and vulgarize the illustrations is beyond my comprehension. Yet that is what this publisher has done.
Vulgarization of text and illustrations
The 1902 edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit contained 26 watercolor illustrations. Editions published by F. Warne & Co. continue to use them. The Forest House edition uses altered versions of nine of them. They are twice the size of the originals and are rendered as garish blotches of color, hideous travesties of Potter’s delicate drawings.
Potter’s original text–first published in 1902 and therefore in the public domain in the U.S.–has been rewritten for this edition. Not only has the story been altered, Potter’s style has been stripped of its intelligent and playful use of language. Somebody, possibly a professional educator, decided that a text originally written for a six year old by a woman of the Victorian Age needed to be cleaned up and simplified for children of the Television Age.
If the text of The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit is any indication of the stuff beginning readers are exposed to on a regular basis, no wonder so many of them grow up convinced that reading is a bore.
Books are precious objects to me. I rarely discard them into the trash. When I must get rid of books, I usually give them to someone. For The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit, however, I would make an exception.
I urge parents, teachers, and librarians who have The Classic Tale of Peter Rabbit in their collections to throw it out and replace it with the real thing.
Children are already exposed to a great deal of ugly illustrations and badly written books in the marketplace. There’s no reason to expose them to a corrupted version of a book that is both beautiful and readily available.