LONDON — Do your kids miss Peter Rabbit? Or would they like to know that he grew up into a chubby, big black cat who leads a double life?
No problem. A lost story by famed British children’s author Beatrix Potter — “The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots” — has been discovered among her memorabilia and will be published this year more than a century after she wrote it.
Jo Hanks, a publisher with Penguin Random House who made the discovery at London’s Victoria & Albert museum in 2013, called the story the biggest Potter discovery in generations and almost certainly the last, the London Times Newspaper reported Tuesday.
“When I was working with Emma Thompson (on “The Further Tale of Peter Rabbit,” published in 2014) I read a book by Leslie Linder about Beatrix Potter, and came across a reference to ‘Kitty-in-Boots,’” she told Britain’s The Bookseller, which covers the publishing industry. “That led me to the V&A, where many of her writings are archived.”
Hanks said she had been “idly thumbing” through the out-of-print literary history when she found a reference to a story about a “well-behaved prime black Kitty cat, who leads rather a double life,” she was quoted by the Times as saying.
“The tale really is the best of Beatrix Potter,” she told the Bookseller. “It has double identities, colourful villains and a number of favourite characters from other tales — most excitingly, Peter Rabbit makes an appearance, albeit older, slower and portlier.”
The story was written in 1914, the year World War I began and Potter’s father died. The beloved children’s author had recently married and had begun a new life as a sheep farmer in Britain’s Lake District.
Hanks said the story, which she said was probably lost when Penguin Random House bought Frederick Warne & Co in the 1980s, needed only “light editing.”
“Beatrix Potter obviously meant to finish the story but things like World War I, getting married and her desire to start running a farm got in the way,” the publisher was quoted by The Bookseller as saying.
Potter has been one of the world’s most popular children’s book authors, delighting children and their parents alike all over the world, ever since “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” was published in 1902, which became an instant, runaway success. The book has sold more than 45 million copies worldwide.
Besides becoming a best-selling author at a time when most women did not work, Helen Beatrix Potter was also an illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist. Born into a wealthy household, she was educated by governesses, growing up isolated from other children. She had numerous pets, however, and developed a love of landscape, flora and fauna.
She wrote about 30 books — by far the best known her 23 children’s tales.
With the money from the books and an inheritance from an aunt, Potter bought a sprawling farm in the Lake District in 1905. In 1913, at the age of 47, she married a respected local lawyer. Potter also then became a prize-winning sheep breeder and a prosperous sheep farmer.
She continued to write and illustrate, however, and to design merchandise based on her children’s books, until the duties of land management and a diminishing eyesight made it difficult to continue her literary career.
After she died, she left her property to Britain’s National Trust. It now comprises most of the country’s staggeringly beautiful Lake District National Park.
Hanks said that after she searched the V & A’s Beatrix Potter Collections, she discovered both a handwritten manuscript of the story and a typset one. There was also a rough color sketch of Kitty-in-Boots.
“The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots” will come out in hardback in September in Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia. It will be illustrated by Quentin Blake and published by Frederick Warne & Co., British media reported.
Hanks told the Bookseller that Blake was chosen as the illustrator because, even though he has a different style to Potter, “he understands the rebelliousness of animal characters and doesn’t patronize children, which was one of Potter’s bugbears.”
The publisher waited to publish the story until 2016 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth.
Hanks told The Bookseller that Penguin Random House is currently in negotiations with a number of European publishers and is not planning on launching a range of merchandise, although it is open to the idea of a movie or TV deal.
Potter’s books continue to sell worldwide in many languages and her stories are retold in various mediums — song, film, ballet and animation, among others.