Noel's family lived in London at the edge of a large park called Wandsworth Commons. Unfortunately, his mother Annie didn’t have a lot of time to spend with her sick child. She had other children to care for, and she was expecting again. Sometimes Noel felt sad and lonely. Sometimes he couldn’t remember what it felt like to run and play.
|1st page of letter|
Sometimes Miss Potter would come for a visit and bring her pet, a Belgian buck rabbit named Peter Piper. She had taught Peter to do tricks, but occasionally Peter was “naughty” and refused to cooperate. The children loved her visits, but it had been a long time since Miss Potter had come to see them. At least, it seemed like a long time to a five year old boy.
But this letter was almost as good as a visit—maybe better, because this letter was addressed to Noel. And it contained a story written just for him--a story about a naughty rabbit named Peter who went into his neighbor's garden and had great adventures and barely made it out again. The letter cheered Noel greatly.
A few years later, Noel was sick again—this time with polio. And Miss Potter continued to send story-letters for Noel and the other children to read.
Noel’s mother told Miss Potter that she thought the stories ought to be published. So one day, when Noel was about twelve, Miss Potter asked to borrow the first letter she had sent. She had decided to try to publish the story about Peter the Rabbit, and she wondered if Noel had kept it.
Kept it? Of course he had kept it and treasured it.
Miss Potter self-published the book in 1901, and it sold only a few copies. But then the publishing firm of F. Warne and Company took an interest in the "bunny book," as they called it. At the Warnes’ request, she rewrote the story, adding more scenes and more pictures. The time was right. Small picture books were just becoming popular, and the book was an instant success.
Beatrix later wrote: “It is much more satisfactory to address a real live child; I often think that that was the secret of the success of Peter Rabbit, it was written to a child - not made to order!”
Little Noel grew up to become a priest. He lived a long life and worked with children in the slums of London.
|Beatrix Potter with her dog Kep|
|Peter's cousin, Benjamin Bunny|
|The Garden Gate, inspiration|
for Mr. McGregor's Garden
And if you'd like to know more about how Peter Rabbit came to be written, the Stark Raving Mythopath recommends The True Story of Peter Rabbit: How a Letter from Beatrix Potter Became a Children's Classic, by Jane Johnson. A delightful picture book.