Beatrix Potter's characters have been loved by generations of children and adults since the early 1900s, but, as former professor Linda Lear reveals in her new biography Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, she was also a scientific illustrator, mycologist (person who studies fungi), businesswoman and conservationist. Lear also a biographer of environmentalist Rachel Carson spent a decade researching Potter's life, becoming intimately acquainted with her journals, sketchbooks, story ideas and letters. The resulting book does an excellent job of giving the reader a sense of the time and place in which Potter lived and the real-life locations and people featured in her stories, and includes family photos and a peek at Potter's scientific illustrations.

Potter introduced Peter Rabbit and his friends in illustrated letters she sent to children of her acquaintance. Initially a self-published author, she wrote and illustrated 23 books by the time of her death at age 77. Children's books were just one chapter in Potter's life, however. In her early 20s, she was an avid toadstool hunter and scientist. Her conclusions (initially pooh-poohed by the male scientific establishment) were later proven and accepted and her illustrations are still used today for the study and identification of fungi.

Amid all her work and study, Potter fell in love, and when her fiance her London publisher and editor, Norman Warne died a month after their engagement, Potter left London and bought a farm. There, she embarked on what Lear calls the third act of her life, and deepened her appreciation for and knowledge of the natural world. When she died in 1943, she left significant parcels of land to England's National Trust.

Lear paints an appealing, revealing picture of an independent, accomplished and loving woman who used her art and research to educate herself and a host of readers. The publication of this biography coincides with the release of Miss Potter, a biopic starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor, but read the book first! Linda M. Castellitto still has her Peter Rabbit coloring book.


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