Celebrating Beatrix Potter at 150

Illustrations from “The Tale of Peter Rabbit”
Illustrations from “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” Beatrix Potter. 1902. Project Gutenberg

I remember I used to half believe and wholly play with fairies when I was a child. What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood, tempered and balanced by knowledge and common-sense? ― Beatrix Potter, The Complete Tales

One author-illustrator whose texts are perfect for elementary Common Core State Standards applications is Beatrix Potter. July 28 marks the 150th anniversary of her birth—an excellent opportunity to commemorate her life and shine a light on her literary and artistic legacy.

Since its formal publication in 1902, Beatrix Potter’s Tale of Peter Rabbit has never been out of print and has become a perennial favorite with young readers the world over. Many adults will fondly remember the escapades of the incorrigible Peter and his friends from having these stories read aloud to them while growing up. Her fetching illustrations capture different sides of human nature and complement the imaginative story lines—image and text combine to bring these animal tales to life for children generation after generation.

Classroom activities

EDSITEment’s Beatrix Potter's Naughty Animal Tales offers several activities that serve as building blocks for the English Language Arts skills requirements for students in grades 3–5. These applications align with English Language Arts Standards, College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading 3: Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Activity 1 considers how childhood in the Victorian era compares to the experience of being a kid nowadays. Students view online source material to make distinctions between the 21st-century point of view and childhood as it was experienced at the turn of the 20th century when Potter was writing her animal stories.

[Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.6: Distinguish their own point of view from that of the author of a text.]

For an overview of Potter’s childhood, including her family relationships and the connections with her pets that inspired her tales, turn to part 1 of Activity 2. Students toggle back and forth between the biographical information and the stories to answer questions relating to the author’s motivations, such as:

  • What was unusual about Beatrix Potter's relationship with her parents?
  • What kinds of activities did her family enjoy?
  • What kinds of pets did the family keep?
  • Why did she center her stories on animal characters rather than people?

[Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.1: Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.]

Activity 3 introduces Beatrix Potter's talents in visual arts, emphasizing her aptitude as an "illustrator" who learned to draw by observing and sketching her environment. Students can view examples of her early drawings of plants, animals, and insects to consider how these childhood pictures, scientific sketches, and landscapes formed the basis for her later story illustrations.

[Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.7: Explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character or setting.)]

Create original stories

Encourage students to write and illustrate their own naughty animal stories using guidance found in Activity 4. Two resources can help students organize their ideas:

  • A story-planning chart helps students outline the important elements before beginning to write and plan where their illustrations will go.
  • A story map from ReadWriteThink is an interactive tool with graphic organizers to assist students with developing the key elements of their story.

[Aligns with CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences.]

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