Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ms. Potter and and her lively imagination

The beauty of having kids is to continuously have to learn things along your life. Sometimes as big as having to re-learn math (I do consider this big, which I do not have to do now – and I think I’ll let my genius husband to do so later!), to as little as having to learn to mix milk powder and water. Somewhere in the middle – it is also learning to find good books that you want your kids to, hopefully, treasure for the whole of their lives. And for us, the latter is what we both enjoy so much.

Since we do not have a ‘working’ TV at home (there is a broken one which has been staying broken for almost 4 years now), and actually none of us wish Tara to be addicted to that box of hypnosis, the task of finding things to read to our daughter becomes even more important to us. From as simple as the cloth and plastic books that I bought when she was a baby, to finding books that have not only good story but also good pictures that can captivate her attention.

And it is pretty normal that as a little kid, she is always captivated by animal stories. And because of that, one day, my husband bought her one of Beatrix Potter’s stories – The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

I have often heard of Beatrix Potter, and especially about Peter Rabbit. But I never really read any of these stories, nor have I encountered them when I was a child. So I got very interested with this book that my husband bought. And, it was love at first read.

I really love the imagination that Potter had – and only later that I found out that Peter and Benjamin were Potter’s rabbits that she kept as pets when she was a child, among other pets that she had which ranged from frogs, newts, ferrets and even a pet bat. Potter would watch these animals for hours on end, sketching them. Only then I could understand how Potter could really make her sketches almost alive to its finer details – her keen eyes really brought her imagination alive.

So captivated that I was with Peter Rabbit and the work of Beatrix Potter, that I watched the movie where Renee Zellweger played as Ms. Potter. And I was rather amazed with her life story. At that time, it must have been difficult to stand tall as an unmarried woman (her fiance passed away not long after their engagement), while she was actually born in a fortunate family with parents who were only too keen that she married a ‘proper gentleman’. Not only that, she was a writer – which what I caught in the movie, was not common for a woman to live off writing in that period especially not with the kind of imagination that she had, but she did it nonetheless, fighting against society’s beliefs. And I admire her more – especially after also knowing, thanks to Wikipedia, that she was actually regarded as an expert mycologist, who did not get the proper appreciation as a scientist only because she was a woman.

I am not going to linger on the injustice given to her just because she was born a woman, but I guess knowing that, has just made me wanted to grow closer to her books. And they are really great to read – they sort of reminded me how as a child I used to talk to the dogs we had, and imagined that they could actually talk to me (because I spent most of my time alone when at home, I spent most of that time being with our dogs. My older sister and I were two very different people that we could never stand 1 hour together when we were little kids).

Thanks to the modern world where I think most children books have been turned into cartoons – I was ever so glad to have found a collection of DVDs based on Potter’s work. From Peter Rabbit and his sisters and Benjamin the rascal cousin, Mrs. Tittle Mouse who loves her house to be clean at all times, Tom the kitten and his two sisters who always make mischief out of their mom’s eyes, and other characters that I just love watching with my daugther. And thanks to these DVDs as well, my daughter has come to know different ‘looks’ of cartoons because they use original sketches that Potter had in her books.

To some extent, Beatrix Potter’s animal stories have a rather similar aura to what Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi has to me: a very endearing, warm hearted, and to some extent down to heart imagination. Something that makes it easy for me to relate with them. These books help me to teach my daughter the good values in life without having to sound pedantic and boring. They actually let my daughter to learn decoding the important signs of ‘must vs must not dos’, without me having to tell her about them, nor the stories had those signs ‘translated’ point blank to her. And to me that is a wonderful way of learning – because then I believe she will remember them much longer, than if these signs were decoded for her.

So, I am glad that I can add the wonderful world of Peter Rabbit and friends among the Strawberry Shortcake’s and the Pooh’s movies and books that my daughter loves. At the very least, they are a different thing that her eyes can feast on. And if the eyes love what they see, then I am confident, that it will go down to her heart. Hopefully, it will be another treasure that she will keep, for life.


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