The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin by Beatrix Potter
(Warne, 2002, 64 pages)
“This is a tale about a tail” – the tail belongs (or belonged) to the mischievous and riddle-telling red squirrel named Nutkin. Like The Tale of Peter Rabbit, this story tells of an impertinent animal whose antics have unfortunate consequences. Nutkin and his squirrel friends set sail for Owl Island to collect nuts, but they must bring gifts for and show deference to the owl who lives on the island, Old Brown. Nutkin, however, would rather pester the owl with riddles and incessant chatter. The old owl isn’t easily perturbed, but when he has finally had enough, he snatches at Nutkin and grabs hold of his tail. Nutkin escapes, but minus one important feature.
The setting for this story was based on an island known as St Herbert’s Island in the Lake District. Apparently the illustrations of the island’s shores and the old gnarled tree that Old Brown lives in are accurate depictions derived from Potter’s photographs and sketches. In later books, Potter would illustrate classic nursery rhymes. Here we have an early indication of the delight that she took in rhymes and in creating humorous situations to feature them.