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The tale of a guinea pig crisis

WL's Hopkinson creates book from the life of Beatrix Potter


SUBMITTED PHOTO - Beatrix Potter's love of animals is central to Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig. Beware of people wanting to borrow your guinea pig.

That profound moral hit home for Beatrix Potter, a hugely popular author of children’s books who has never gone out of fashion. Sadly, as a little girl in Victorian England she had to return a guinea pig she had borrowed in order to paint its portrait.

Unfortunately, it was dead. And handing the guinea pig’s body to the woman who owned it was a truly traumatic experience for the little girl, especially because she so dearly loved animals.

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Longtime childrens book author Deborah Hopkinson discovered the idea for her latest book in the pages of Beatrix Potter's journal.

Surprisingly, and most happily for Potter fans, this instance has been turned into art by West Linn resident Deborah Hopkinson, an acclaimed children’s book author whose love of animals truly rivals that of Potter. It’s called “Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig” and it comes out on Feb. 2.

The publishing of this book is a very happy event for Hopkinson, because Potter has always been a great inspiration to her, an inspiration she shares with children everywhere.

“I visit schools all over the country and try to encourage students to think of themselves as young writers and artists,” Hopkinson said. “Beatrix is a wonderful example of someone who pursued her craft for many years before she was published.”

Hopkinson has her own rich history as a successful children’s writer. She has written more than 50 books and received many prestigious honors in the process, including the Oregon Book Award.

Yet of all the books she has written, Hopkinson has probably never had a subject she has had more empathy with than Beatrix Potter, who herself wrote 23 books for children. One of them was “Tales of Peter Rabbit,” and Potter has been one of the immortals of children’s book writing ever since.

Perhaps the way that Hopkinson and Potter are most alike is their deep, deep love of pets. Hopkinson had a pet-deprived childhood, with her parents only having a single cat. But since she got married and started her own family, Hopkinson has had a startling roll call of pets: dogs, cats, ferrets, pigeons, geese, peacocks, sheep, frogs, a turtle she kept in her bathtub, and even hissing cockroaches.

Who else better to write a book about Beatrix Potter? However, Hopkinson chose to write about a mysterious incident that Potter buried in her journals.

“The story is based on an actual event in Beatrix Potter’s life in which she borrowed a guinea pig named Queen Elizabeth from a neighbor so she could sketch it from life,” Hopkinson said. “I found the details in her journal —which she actually wrote in code and was only decoded and published after her death.”

Hopkinson should have an eager audience of readers, including the members of the Beatrix Potter Society.

“I think Potter fans and those who enjoyed the film ‘Miss Potter’ will enjoy this story,” Hopkinson said.

In the coming weeks, Hopkinson will be busy promoting her book, and she even has a new book in the hopper. She is sticking with the subject of animals.

“It’s called ‘A Bandit’s Tale: the Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket,’ which comes out in April,” Hopkinson said. “It’s about the plight of workhorses in the 19th century New York City. It includes mention of the beginnings of the ASPCA, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.”

Animal lover that she is, Hopkinson noted, “We will not, however, be getting a horse.”

For more about Deborah Hopkinson and her life and books go to deborahhopkinson.com.