Peter Rabbit has been entertaining children since 1902 when he appeared in his first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit. He’s also maintained his popularity with the adults who grew up enjoying the tales of his adventures and the captivating drawings by Beatrix Potter. She was able to create unique characters and a magical world. Now, over 100 years later, her books have sold over 100 million copies and continue to make lists of best ever children’s books. Beatrix Potter even had the vision to create a Peter Rabbit soft toy in 1903, and patent it. This makes Peter Rabbit the oldest licensed character. She went on to create other Peter Rabbit toys and that tradition continues today.
Despite the fun of today’s interpretations of all those characters, much of Peter Rabbit’s enduring appeal is due to the subtle but valuable lessons of the books themselves. Clearly children can learn from the trouble Peter experiences after disobeying his mother. Fortunately, it is presented in such a way that children don’t find it off-putting. Sneaking into Mr. McGregor’s garden puts Peter in peril and eating too many vegetables while he’s there increases the risk. Although Peter manages to escape after Mr. McGregor chases him, he still suffers the loss of his jacket and shoes. This leads to the indignity of having his belongings used to clothe a scarecrow. In spite of his misadventures and exhaustion, Peter finds comfort at home when his mother puts him to bed to rest and brings him a cup of chamomile tea. The message of home and mother being a place of safety ends the book on a heartening note. Peter being cosy in bed and ready to sleep could even offer additional help in getting your children off to bed!
There is the obvious message about the importance of heeding warnings from parents and the risks of venturing too far away from home. In spite of the moral lessons, the book is still positive and upbeat enough that children love to read it over and over again. Even adults still enjoy the stories and clever illustrations.
In the second book, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, Peter shows he hasn’t completely learned his lesson about the dangers of going into Mr. McGregor’s garden. He decides to go there with his cousin, Benjamin Bunny, to try to retrieve the clothing Peter lost in his misadventures of the first book. It’s no surprise when Peter’s second journey into the garden again puts him at risk. This time he and Benjamin are chased by Mr. McGregor’s cat. Benjamin and Peter are eventually rescued by Benjamin’s father. This reaffirms the sense that adults will be there to help, even if children get themselves into trouble. Benjamin’s father goes on to punish Peter and Benjamin, which is highlighted here as one of the risks of disobeying a parent’s warning. The precarious situation Peter and Benjamin found themselves in (and had to be rescued from) shows that Peter’s mother’s warnings were reasonable and that Peter would have been smart to heed them.
In The Tale of Mr. Tod, Peter and Benjamin reunite to put themselves in peril to save others. They are able to rescue Benjamin and Flopsy’s children, who have been kidnapped by Tommy Brock, a badger of ill repute. Peter and Benjamin, who are acting to help others, are successful. Tommy Brock trespasses into the home of Mr. Tod, a fox, in order to hide. This leads to Mr. Tod and Tommy Brock getting into a scuffle while Peter and Benjamin are able to rescue the children. This is a classic reinforcement of the lesson that crime does not pay, while also recognising the value of helping others.