Saturday 6 June 2009


I've recently become aware of a new franchise elbowing its way into the nursery...

According to the Peter Rabbit ™ Naturally Better blurb - sorry, charter - Stephanie Barton, MD of publisher, Frederick Warne ('and herself a mother of two') says:

For example, you can purchase: Kitchen towels and facial tissues, made from recycled paper pulp with biodegradable packaging.

And you can stock your kitchen larder with: A range of organic food for the whole family to enjoy. All of the products are based around organic fruit, vegetables and grains, do not contain added sugar or salt and are free from hydrogenated fats and artificial additives.

Not only that, but when it comes to books (which is, after all, what we associate Beatrix Potter most closely with) you can buy a new range of Peter Rabbit ™ Naturally Better titles...

However, when it comes to the artwork, I have just one question...

...Naturally Better???


scb said...

I choked first on the words "the special values of the Peter Rabbit brand", brand??? but then the artwork? Gulp. Um, I prefer Miss Potter's originals, thank you very much... (which are, no doubt, copyrighted -- which brings us to the pale imitations we see here...)

Sic transit gloria mundi...

Brian Sibley said...

Sadly, SCB, it's worse than you supposed! The artwork hasn't been changed (I'm sure they say something like "re-visualised for a modern readership") because they don't have the copyright on the Potter illustrations.

You see, Frederick Warne are Miss P's original publishers! So it's a case of wanting to milk the "brand" while not having sufficient confidence in it to rely on the qualities of storytelling and illustration that made the books the success they've been for over 100 years.

Of course, the publishers will say that they also publish the books in their original form, but this blatant (and I think talentless) re-branding (which is also happening to other classic children's characters, such as Winnie-the-Pooh and Thomas the Tank Engine) is down to nothing more or less than commercial GREED!

alex milway said...

This seems very similar to what Puffin are doing with the new line of Moomin books - have you seen any of their new versions, or are they simply re-using old artwork?

I don't mind the art on these though - it's much more in line with contemporary nursery books on the shelves in shops these days. It's certainly a world apart from the original artwork, but it's clearly trying to be more instantly appealing to very young eyes.

When you're dealing with the bright and appealing style of Maisy, Mr Men, Gruffalo and so on, Beatrix Potter really does look like something from a different century. That's not a bad thing, but it's clear the publishers are trying to provide new ways for getting children into these timeless stories.

And even though children's books are all about the brand these days, surely Beatrix Potter was the first 'brand' in children's books?

Brian Sibley said...

Yes, ALEX, I think Miss P was, probably, the first 'brand' in children's books (though in the USA, that honour probably goes to L Frank Baum and the other authors of the Oz books) and I wouldn't mind quite so much if these were nursery retellings of BP's stories, but titles such as Jemima Puddleduck can see... and Jeremy Fisher can hear... suggest these are new 'early learning' narratives (probably 'narrative' is too big a word for the number of words they are likely to contain!) cashing in on parents' and grandparents' memories of having read the originals...

Ironically one of the joys of Potter's writing is its uncompromising vocabulary. So, maybe, if they are out-moded then it would be more honest to let them sink or swim in the commercial market rather than change them into something they aren't so they can survive to be what they were never intended to be!

alex milway said...

I think there's a really interesting discussion to be had about the re-imagining of old titles, and the maintaining of interest in back catalogues - especially as copyrights for many of the old classics are coming to an end. Some publishers are clearly getting worried about their business and their 'old bankable faithfuls'.

I imagine Beatrix Potter's books must be close to end of copyright, and this is an instance of the publisher creating new content to benefit after that's expired? In a similar way to Peter Pan and Geraldine McCaughrean's sequel did for Great Ormond Street?

There is a slightly whiffy air of dishonesty about it, for sure. I can't help thinking of poor old Winnie the Pooh, and the countless new Disney stories.

But publishers want to secure their incomes, and rightly or wrongly they seem set to delve into deceased authors' work. The new Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy story by Eoin Colfer being another instance.

I must admit that as a writer, I'd be happier to know that publishers wanted new content and new books to sell, rather than rely on old titles...

Suzanne said...

Whatever next? I wonder what these "enterprising" (hum) people would do with "The Wind in the Willows". Call me old-fashioned, fuddy duddy, whatever, I shall stick like glue to the original books, drawings and all.

Unknown said...


This is a horrifying thing to see, trumping up fake BP nursery books based on the original characters whilst of course 'respecting' the brand. They do indeed look 're-visualised', and will of course open the books up for a'new generation' in very inverted commas in publisihing speak. The reverse of what Scholastic and now Frances Lincoln have done with the Ardizzone Little Tim books, republished exactly as they were and should be, no spin offs, juts the purity of invention that made them great in the first place.

Bitter Animator said...

I think your take on this is spot-on, Mr.S. I do find myself a little torn on it though.

The new artwork, well, I actually quite like it and it has retained much of the design from the original, just represented in a different way.

But better?


Part of it would hinge on what the real intention is here. Like you, I suspect these have been stripped down to early learning books, which could never do Ms.Potter's work justice.

But then, is it a way of leading children into the works of Ms.Potter?

I'd love to think it would.

But the reality is probably far simpler - they want to 'create' a new brand and what better way to do that than cannibalise an existing brand that they have little or no respect for?

There is another consideration - though they have the publishing rights, wouldn't using direct text and images work out more costly than effectively creating a cover version? Their own designers and staff probably stand to gain far more by convincing those up top that they need to rebrand.

That's one of the things that really rubbed me up the wrong way about Chorion's butchering of the Mr.Men. They had some designers in there who had the balls to think that they could design characters better than the man who made the classics to begin with? The man who created the 'brand'?

They ditched a load of Roger Hargreaves' designs completely and replaced them with godawful new versions. Like the originals weren't good enough.

You can be sure some people stood to gain from those redesigns.

Actually, on this (and your love for Pooh), Disney may well have been quick to butcher Pooh with that horrendously bland 'Tigger & Pooh' show but, as I'm sure you've heard, after The Princess And The Frog, they are making a new Winnie the Pooh feature. That they are setting it up as a big 2D feature like that, rather than it just being a churned-out side-project exercise in licensing would seem to be an encouraging sign.

Brian Sibley said...

I hate to tell you this, SUZANNE, but they've already given The Wind in the Willows 'the works'!

ALEX and BA: good points and interesting arguments, guys. On the Pooh front, it's not just Disney who're at it; the original publishers (as I'm sure you've heard) and issuing a 'new' Winnie-the-Pooh book later this year.

Muir Hewitt said...

The new artwork is a ghastly travesty of the original Beatrix Potter paintings!

Somebody once said : Nobody ever went bust by underestimating public taste ! " how right that person was!!

Brian Sibley said...

Well said, MUIR!