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Post-Victorian Literature and The Importance of Animal Representation in The Peter Rabbit Story Book

© Kristen Zaino 2017, Ryerson University


The Peter Rabbit Story Book is a collection of tales revolving around Beatrix Potter’s original Peter Rabbit short children’s novel. Other authors within the Peter Rabbit Story Book are Linda S. Almond and May Wynne, who contribute four out of the five short stories within the Peter Rabbit Story Book. The 5 short stories are titled: “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” by Beatrix Potter, “When Peter Rabbit went A-Fishing”, “Peter Rabbit’s Holiday”, “Peter Rabbit and the Little Girl” By Linda S. Almond, and lastly “Peter Rabbit’s Wedding Day” by May Wynne. 

“The Tale of Peter Rabbit” from The Peter Rabbit Story Book


The Tale of Peter Rabbit is described as a “conventional canon of children’s literature” ever since its release in 1902 (Mackey, xvi), which is why I have specifically chosen to study Beatrix’s Potter’s ever-changing tale of Peter Rabbit, which has launched a great deal of children’s literature. 

Context: What Exactly Does Animal Representation Mean? 

This digital exhibit will explore literature and the representations animals had within specific contexts, specifically on the Peter Rabbit Story Book. Another novel this digital exhibit will discuss is Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne, where I will compare and describe the similarities and differences that the animals in each novel represents. The illustrations themselves matter as well, as they were a new way of showing children the tale they are reading. Animals took part in representing things that were unable to be captured by humans. It made the animals more loving, and made children understand the true beauty of nature at such young ages. Growing up reading books on animals or with animals as the main character would entail that individual to have a fondness for these animals.

Children “implicitly and explicitly identify with animals” as they read these novels, positioning themselves “as distinctly human through the mode of their interactions with both lived animals and those depicted in literature” (Ratelle, 1). In other words, children identify themselves with the animals in these books, which is an important way for children to learn things that are not directly caused by humans, such as learning how to respect your parents as Peter Rabbit respects his mother.

Introduction of Analysis

Peter Rabbit is a mischievous baby bunny, who is still naive, adventurous, and very appealing to children. This is evident when Peter Rabbit’s mother tells him not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden or else he could end up dead like his father, but Peter does not listen to her, and goes on his own adventure, eating all the food in Mr. McGregor’s garden, but then learning his lesson as he is then chased out by Mr. McGregor himself. Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit in 1902, and it became clear to children’s book authors that having animals as the main characters representing the children through a relatable animal, such as troublesome Peter Rabbit, was an important feat for other books. 

Importance of Animals in Place of Humans

Literature is a powerful tool. It can ignite emotions in all individuals, helping people to make sense of the world in different ways with different perspectives (Burke and Copenhaver, 2). Children are new to mostly everything in the world, and a good way to get children to understand things are through literature, and through picture books that help set up their perspective of the world. “During the nineteenth century, animal suffering was an appalling constant of both rural and urban landscapes” (Ratelle, 13), so the idea of writing children’s books about animals instead of humans, and showing the new generations why animals are important, was a crucial action to take. These books changed the way generations grew up to view animals, and made other people understand that animals are special as well as humans. 

First Artwork in The Peter Rabbit Story Book

“Children’s books are a more open and obvious mix of artistic, educational, and commercial ideologies” (Mackey, xiv), which is why it is important that children’s literature contains animals for children to learn the important of animals. The illustrations also make up a big part of Peter Rabbit’s popular tale, because of how beautiful they are and how enticing that makes them to the child. Children are very impressionable, and as they grow up reading books such as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Winnie the Pooh, it is certain they will grow up loving animals. Both The Peter Rabbit Story Book and Winnie the Pooh give great insight to how animals exist and survive in the world they live in. Though these novels are obviously fiction, as animals cannot talk, it is great for children to see rabbits and other animals befriending one another without hesitance, showing that no matter who you are or what you are, you are valid and will find happiness. This is important for children to understand as they will hopefully grow up accepting people of all genders, race, and social classes. “Animal characters as people can add a degree of emotional distance for the reader/writer/speaker when the story message is very powerful” (Burke et. al 9), but it can also be a great way for children to relate to the stories, and learn crucial lessons for the future.

How Peter Rabbit Changed the Future of Children’s Literature

Peter Rabbit was one of the first anthropomorphized characters in a children’s novel, and since the initial release of Beatrix Potter’s tale, many more books have been written, highlighting the importance of anthropomorphism. One of these books that have been incredibly popular as well, is A.A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, a tale revolving around a sweet, honey-loving bear, and his animal friends in the fictional Hundred Acre Wood Forest. Interestingly, each of the characters all have separate personalities, very distinct from one another, and their personalities match the animal that they are. For example, Owls are independent creatures who are seemingly wise, and that is exactly how Owl in Winnie the Pooh is written. He is seen as a mentor to all the other animals, and as someone who’s advice is most-likely very trustworthy (Eichner, 1).

Winnie the Pooh and friends. Real Caption: Winnie the Pooh turns 90, Blogspot.ca

It is important for children to see the representation of different personalities, and be able to relate to these animals and find themselves within them. Animal representation is often not as discussed as cultural representation is, such as the gender, race, and class issues a lot of these novels wrote about in the 20th century. “We need to stop thinking about children’s books as child’s play and acknowledge that the body of children’s literature reflects contentious issues that reside in the core of our culture”  (Burke et. al, 6), but at the same time, we have to also realize that the animal represent more than just cultural issues. They represent personal issues, and address mental health issues, such as Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, who is a character that usually isolated himself because he does not think anyone understands him (Eichner, 1). It is important to see this representation in children’s literature because it is common now in the 21st century for children to feel this isolation as well. Without this representation, children may feel even more isolated, and having an animal represent these traits gives a safe but close enough distance between real life issues and fictional issues.


The Peter Rabbit Story Book and the original tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter revolutionized the way authors write children’s literature. Anthropomorphism helps to create a safe distance between the fictional story and the children, but also helps children to relate to these animals and therefore understand the importance of them. In our modern society, anthropomorphism plays a large role in most children literature and other medias, such as TV or movies, where the main protagonists are animals, and the target audience for these movies are children.

Overall, Beatrix Potter revolutionized children’s literature with Peter Rabbit and the illustrations along with the text. She will continue future generations of children, students, and authors to come.

Works Cited

  • Burke, Carolyn L., Joby G. Copenhaver, and Marilyn Carpenter. “Animals as People in Children’s Literature.” Language Arts, vol. 81, no. 3, 2004, pp. 205-213, Research Library

  • Ratelle, Amy. The Anthropomorphized Animal in Children’s Culture, Ryerson University (Canada), Ann Arbor, 2012, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses A&I; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global

  • Milne, A. A. (Alan Alexander), 1882-1956 and Shepard, Ernest H. (Ernest Howard), 1879-1976 (Illustrator), Winnie-the-Pooh, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, Ltd., 1926 (Copyright), Children’s Literature Archive

  • Potter, Beatrix, 1866-1943 and Willis, Bess Goe (Illustrator), The Peter Rabbit Story Book, New York: The Platt & Munk Co. Inc., 1931 (Copyright), Children’s Literature Archive

  • Mackey, Margaret. The Case of Peter Rabbit: Changing Conditions of Literature for Children. Garland Publishing Inc. , 1998.

  • Eichner, Bernadette. “Understanding Your Team: Who’s Who in Your Hundred Acre Wood.” Do Better Hiring – The RecruitLoop Blog, Recruit Loop, 1 Dec. 2016

Images in this online exhibit are either in the public domain or being used under fair dealing for the purpose of research and are provided solely for the purpose of research, private study, or education.