Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Forgotten Beatrix Potter Tale Of 'Kitty-In-Boots' To Be Published


Beatrix Potter is famous for her charming tales of mice and rabbits, most notably Peter Rabbit, who was given this piece of sage advice.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Now, my dears, you may go into the fields.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden.

CORNISH: Readers will see Peter again soon, though older and hopefully wiser. He plays a big part in "The Tale Of Kitty-In-Boots." It's a mostly forgotten story that's getting a new life this fall. NPR's Petra Mayer has the story.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Beatrix Potter was always a little creepier than you remember. Peter, after all, wasn't supposed to go into Mr. McGregor's garden because Mr. McGregor had eaten his father. But still, her stories are favorites with generations of young readers.

JO HANKS: When I first found out that there could potentially be another tale, I think it's fair to say my heart skipped a beat.

MAYER: That's Jo Hanks, a publisher at Penguin Random House children's books. A few years ago, she was working with the actress Emma Thompson on a new Peter Rabbit story when she picked up an out-of-print history of Potter's writings.

HANKS: I came across a mention of a tale about a cat called Kitty, and I'd never heard of Kitty in any of my other research. She wasn't a character that appeared in any of her published tales.

MAYER: So Hanks went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which has a huge archive of Beatrix Potter material. And what she found went something like this.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Once upon a time, there was a serious, well-behaved, young black cat. It belonged to a kind old lady who assured me that no other cat could compare with Kitty. She lived -

MAYER: Hanks says Potter fully intended to publish "Kitty-In-Boots." It was typeset, she'd done some illustrations, and she'd told her publisher it only needed a light edit. But there, the story stops. Potter abandoned "Kitty-In-Boots" and while scholars knew it existed, it was never really available to the public. So how did it wind up gathering dust in a museum?

LINDA LEAR: It's a rather peculiar story.

MAYER: Linda Lear is the author of "Beatrix Potter: A Life In Nature." She says "Kitty-In-Boots" has a bit of an edge.

LEAR: Kitty is a hunter and she has a gun.

MAYER: Kitty sneaks out at night dressed in men's clothes. She carries that gun to hunt rabbits, though don't worry. Peter's not her target. At one point, she's even caught and injured in a trap, which isn't exactly kid-friendly. So when Potter sent the manuscript to her publishers -

LEAR: They were less than enthusiastic. And there was also the beginnings of women's suffrage at that time, and it was sort of politically very dicey that this story might be published.

MAYER: Potter was discouraged by that response. She described herself in a letter as a good deal damped. She also had a lot going on - her recent marriage, moving house, her father's death and the first World War. So that was it for "Kitty-In-Boots" until now. Publisher Jo Hanks thinks the story was worth a century's wait.

HANKS: It is such an excellent tale. It's really the best of Beatrix Potter.

MAYER: "The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots" will be published here and in the U.K. this September with new illustrations by Quentin Blake. Petra Mayer, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Petra Mayer (she/her) is an editor (and the resident nerd) at NPR Books, focusing on fiction, and particularly genre fiction. She brings to the job passion, speed-reading skills, and a truly impressive collection of Doctor Who doodads. You can also hear her on the air and on the occasional episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.