At my baby shower a couple of years ago, I received a full set of the Beatrix Potter books. A lovely gift. But as the ratio of words to pictures skews heavily toward words, it’s only just now that the Little Monkey has shown an interest and a willingness to sit through them. He discovered them on his bookshelf and now they’ve been all he wants at bedtime. And as he typically does, he tends to latch onto books that interest him and he wants me to read them over, and over, and over again.
So, this is how I have found myself immersed in Beatrix Potter. And, can I just say, holy cow! I thought I stumbled over my words when I read some of his dinosaur books. Nothing like trying to pronounce Euoplocephalus. It just doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.
But with Beatrix Potter it’s like I’m teaching myself to read again. Is it that Potter wrote these in the early 1900s with the formal language of that era? In The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck, Potter writes “Jemima complained of the superfluous hen.” In today’s modern fiction this would surely have read, “Jemima cursed the useless bitch.” Well, maybe not in a children’s book.
In The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Potter describes how “…Mr. Jeremy sat disconsolately on the edge of his boat…” Disconsolately? Really? Not only could I not pronounce that, I had to look it up. Although to be fair to Miss Potter, you do get her general meaning from the other parts of the story and her drawings.
And in a classic example of how our understanding of the meaning behind words and phrases changes over time, she writes (again in The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher) that it “was all slippy-sloppy in the … back passage.” I don’t think I need to elaborate on where my mind leapt. Especially given my recent experiences.
Don’t get me wrong. I think these books are great. They have imaginative stories and drawings that have clearly captured the attention of my two-year old. I just didn’t expect that at this stage I’d be reading stories to him that gave me a vocabulary lesson as well. And that is, of course, a good thing. It has me looking forward to all the other things I’ll get to re-learn along with him when we do things like his math homework.