cover image My Dear Noel: The Story of a Letter from Beatrix Potter

My Dear Noel: The Story of a Letter from Beatrix Potter

Jane Johnson. Dial Books, $15.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-8037-2050-3

Johnson's (The Princess and the Painter) spare tale will be lapped up by anyone who ever loved Beatrix Potter's cotton-tailed hero. Her story tells of the famous letter that Potter sent to an ill London boy in 1893 that later evolved into The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Elegant watercolor and pen-and-ink artwork brimming with period details focuses on Noel Moore and his cherubic siblings as they eagerly await a visit from Miss Potter; simultaneous views of Potter in her home cleverly hint at her professional interests. Irresistible in sailor suits and smocked dresses, the children greet their friend: ""Noel had known her longest, so he felt she belonged to him more than to Eric or Marjorie or Freda."" The ideal guest, she arrives with gifts for all, also bringing her mischievous pet mice and rabbit, Peter. As Potter departs, she explains to Noel that she is going to Scotland and will not be able to visit for awhile, but ""I shall write."" When her envelope arrives, it is just the tonic needed by Noel, who has spent the summer in bed, ""forgetting how it felt to be well"": the child decides that Mrs. Potter's tale of a feisty hero named Peter Rabbit is ""really about me!"" Johnson's credible dialogue and her precisely detailed Victorian setting make these endearing, century-old characters impressively lifelike and immediate. A facsimile of Potter's original missive to Noel on the endpapers tops off this inviting introduction to an extraordinary artist and her best-known work. Ages 4-8. (Feb.)