Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Cottage tales of Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Applebeck Orchard

The Cottage tales of Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Applebeck Orchard

Susan Wittig Albert
Fiction  Series
for ages 14 and up
Penguin, 2010   ISBN: 978-0425236437

Miss Beatrix Potter is back in the Lake District, and she is delighted to be living on her farm again, even though she knows she will have to go back to the home she shares with her parents sooner rather than later. As always, being on her farm gives her so much joy, and she is glad to be reunited with the friends (human and animal) who live in her neighborhood.

Beatrix is not home long before she hears the latest news. Apparently, Mr. Harmsworth has barricaded the footpath that runs across his land and that connects the two hamlets of Near Sawrey and Far Sawrey. People have been using the path for at least one hundred years, and many of the villagers are furious that Mr. Harmsworth has done this. For his part, Mr. Harmsworth insists that he has the right to close the footpath. Not long ago his haystack was torched, and he is convinced that the person responsible is someone who strayed from the footpath to do mischief.

In addition to this potentially volatile situation, Beatrix’s beloved country world is plagued with several other problems. Max the Manx cat is feeling very low because he has no job and no proper home. Bosworth Badger is troubled because he has not, as yet, appointed a badger to be his heir, and if he should die, there will be no one to take his place as master of the Brockery and keeper of the history books written in and cherished by family.

Margaret Nash, the school principal, cannot help wishing that she had a hope of becoming Captain Woodcock’s wife, but she has convinced herself that her current life with her sister is all that she can expect from life. There are also two young girls in the village who similarly feel trapped by their lives. One, Gilly, has no choice but to labor for her uncle on his farm, and the other has no choice but to do what her parsimonious and demanding grandmother wishes.

Then there is Beatrix. Mr. Helix, the local solicitor, is clearly becoming very fond of her, and though she tries to deny it, Beatrix has strong feeling of affection for him in return. Beatrix tells herself that such an attachment is not possible because she is still mourning her dead fiancée, but the truth of the matter is that Beatrix’s parents are far too selfish to allow her to have a life of her own, and she knows it.

It is hard to imagine how all these tangled threads will ever get untangled, but one should remember that Beatrix Potter is very good at solving mysteries and finding solutions to problems. She seems to have a knack for it, and it is not wise to underestimate her courage, perspicacity, and gentle deviousness.

This is the sixth title in the Cottage Tales series, and once again readers are given a delicious picture of English village life in the Lake District in the early nineteen hundreds. With a chatty (and sometimes biased) narrative voice that is amusing and quite charming, Susan Wittig Albert tells the stories of her human and animal characters in alternating chapters, weaving them together so that we find ourselves quite caught up by the stories. Fact and fiction are combined beautifully to give readers a thoroughly satisfying bookish experience.