The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (The 23 Tales, No. 2)

by Beatrix Potter

Hardcover, 1987



Call number




Warne (1987), Edition: Reissue, 64 pages


Squirrel Nutkin would rather ask an old owl riddles than gather nuts with the other squirrels.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Treeseed
Beatrix Potter is best known for her book The Tale of Peter Rabbit published in 1902 but that book was only the first in a collection of 23 tales featuring the animals and landscape of Potter's beloved Lake District. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin is the second book in the popular series. Unlike Peter
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Rabbit's story Squirrel Nutkin's tale has little that will appeal to children in modern times. The illustrations, on the other hand, will still delight.

All of Potter's tales are illustrated with her characteristic water color paintings that show little animals, ducks, rabbits, frogs, hedgehogs, squirrels, kittens, etc. going about their busy lives in the countryside. Often the main character is a mischievous youngster who gets into trouble but learns a valuable lesson. I love Potter's paintings because of their realistic details charmingly coupled with fantasy notions of animals with fanciful human attributes and occupations. The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin does not disappoint in this area. I think many adult art lovers will enjoy leafing through this book and will certainly appreciate the captivating little creatures and scenery. I love the gentle Victorian influences in the art and in the story.

The story of the young red squirrel named Nutkin takes place during a fine Lake District autumn. Nutkin, his brother Twinkleberry and several of their cousins live on the shore of a lake. In the middle of the lake is an island covered with nut trees and bushes where lives the lord and master of the island, a large and powerful owl named Old Brown. The squirrels build rafts and sail over to the island each day for six days, (the seventh day being the Sabbath there is no action.) Each day they bring sacks and a different present to appease Old Brown so that he will grant them permission to collect nuts on his island. Each day nine or so polite little squirrels deliver their present and humbly seek permission, however there is one little squirrel who is consistently "excessively impertinent in his manners." You guessed it...Nutkin! He frolics around and teases Old Brown and every day he recites a different nonsense nursery verse or a silly riddle. He sings rudely, tickles Old Brown, skips, bobs up and down, laughs and even jumps on top of Old Brown! Mostly the owl just ignores him. Nutkin fools around while the other squirrels are working and plays marbles with oak-apples (acorns), sticks pine needles into robin's pincushions from a briar bush, and has a game of ninepins with a crab apple and some green fir cones. Eventually, in this tale of a tail, Nutkin pushes Old Brown too far. One frightful illustration shows the big owl with his talons around the throat of the helpless Nutkin. I'm sure you can guess what happens.

I love the charming story, especially its quaint Victorian sentiments. One of the things I like best about it, however, is the very reason I do not think modern children will enjoy it. It contains several old riddles, one or two for each visit to the island, the answers to which can be found hidden in the text. For example here is an old Scottish riddle that Nutkin chirps at Old Brown on day six:
Arthur O'Bower has broken his band,
He comes roaring up the land!
The King of Scots with all his power,
Cannot turn Arthur of the Bower!
Answer to the riddle: the wind.

or how 'bout this one from day four:

Hum-a-bum! buzz! buzz! Hum-a-bum buzz!
As I went over Tipple-tine
I met a flock of bonny swine;
Some yellow-nacked, some yellow backed!
They were the very bonniest swine
That e'er went over Tipple-tine.
Answer: bees

The riddles are antiquated and even with the hint in the text young children who are the likely audience for this story will probably find them confusing or dull.

Also confusing are the "presents" that the squirrels deliver to Old Brown. On the first day they give the owl three dead mice and on the second day, a fat dead mole. They give minnows and beetles. They wrap the beetles up in dock leaves secured with pine needle pins so they will look like plum puddings. The squirrels have human characteristics in that they speak and sing and make rafts and carry little canvas sacks...and well, they understand strange little riddles and know how to gift wrap. Talented rodents, these...but are they murderers, too? Explain to your child why squirrels kill other rodents like mice and moles in order to provide the payola for the Godfather owl crime boss. Well, you see, Johnny, squirrels are people and mice and moles are food so that's okay if they're dead. Um, owls are people, too, but they kill the squirrels if they don't get presents. Well, no, they're not human but they're people. No, our dog is not a person and he cannot sit at the table for supper. It's make-believe, Johnny. Sit quietly and I'll finish the story. Yes, the dead mice look real in the pictures and so do the squirrels...but the squirrels are pretend pretend and the mice are pretend real.

The story is repetitious and not particularly long on action. Every day, paddle over to the island, give the owl a present, collect hazel nuts. Every day Nutkin acts like a nutter, gets in Old Brown's face, sings a riddle or nursery rhyme and goofs off while Twinkleberry and the cousins work. Finally violence erupts and the jolly (but perish the thought, rude) Nutkin is maimed as an ever present reminder of his impertinence. There is not much here to engage a modern child, especially not for one young enough to be content with such a short, picture driven story book.

There are several difficult words for young children such as obstinately, gracious, nettle, scarlet, counterpane, Hackamore, waistcoat, groat, herring. These are not difficult for a well read child with access to a dictionary but again, it is likely not the well read child who will be enjoying these nursery books at mother or father's knee.

My feelings on The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin and Beatrix Potter books in general are mixed. I love the art. I love the quaint Victorian text complete with a moral. I even love the old riddles. If these books were intended and marketed for crazy bookish old ladies with a nostalgic love for things Victorian, then...hip hip hooray! 5 stars! However, this book and the others of this series are to this day one of the most popular new baby gifts and have been a part of most every nursery library since they were written a century ago. Why then have I easily collected the entire set in several different sizes and formats from rummage sales (boot or jumble sales for my British friends)? Why? Because no one reads them and no children beg Mommy or Daddy for "just one more" before the lights are turned out. These are more or less purchased as classics (which they are) but they no longer seem to pass the kid test. I hope they never go out of print because they are works of art of a bygone day. However, since they have become somewhat obsolete they only get 3 stars from me when judged as a modern children's book.
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LibraryThing member nlinco1
This book is about a squirrel named Nutkin, who is very "impertinent" or in other words very disrespectful in particularly to a generous owl who lets all the squirrels from across the lake gather nuts from his island. Nutkin bounces about in front of the owl saying riddles while the other squirrels
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leave gifts for the owl in regards to his generosity. Day after day this continues until the owl decides to show Nutkin what he is capable of doing to rodents. Nutkin escapes from the owl but learned his lesson. I liked this book because it had an interesting theme. The book seems simply fun at first with no true meaning. However, as I continued to read I started to understand that the author was trying to cause the reader to reflect on the values of generosity and respect. For example, the squirrels that were kind and giving were not injured like Nutkin in the end.
I also liked the imaginative qualities of this book. Besides the fact that the animals could talk, they could also row across a lake and use there tails as personal sails.
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LibraryThing member barquist
This is another one of Beatrix Potters stories which teaches a grim lesson, similar to Peter Rabbit. This story is ideal for teaching children about manners, what is socially acceptable, and consequences.
LibraryThing member lisa211
This is a story of a naughty little squirrel name Squirrel Nutkin, who loves to tease Mr. Brown, an owl who lives on an island filled with nut trees, which fancy the other squirrels. Daily the squirrels came bringing gifts to Mr. Brown as to gain permission to harvest these nuts in return.

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they are being polite, Squirrel Nutkin is prety much very naughty. He teases him with riddles, mostly ignore by the owl but when too much is too much one day, Mr. Brown punished Nutkins by having his tail torn off!

This is a cute and enjoyable little story. It also teaches kids to not to tease people too much that they are out of line. The illustrations are beautiful. The riddles are cute. The plot and charcaters draws you in. Children would love to read or to be read to with this funny little "tail". Don't miss out inadding this book to your children's reading list.
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LibraryThing member t1bclasslibrary
When the squirrels go to gather nuts from owl’s island, they are all polite and industrious, except for squirrel nutkin who torments the owl with riddles and then plays games. In the end, the owl catches him, but Nutkin gets away- minus half his tail!
LibraryThing member darleneua
This book would be appropriate for second or third grade. It tells a lesson about picking on others.
LibraryThing member TimiF
Nutkin, Twinkleberry, and their cousins lived in the woods near the edge of a lake. When the nuts were ripe, these characters paddled to Owl Island to gather nuts. Mr. Owl allowed them to gather nuts on his island. Nutkin sang a riddle to him, but he just ignored him. This squirrel family kept
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coming back to gather nuts. Each time, Nutkin would sing a riddle to Mr. Owl. He would ignore him. On the last day to gather nuts, Nutkin sang his riddle and jumped on Mr. Owls head. This made Mr. Owl mad and he caught Nutkin and put him in his coat pocket. Mr. Owl picked Nutkin up by his tail to skin him and Nutkin's tail broke. This allowed Nutkin to have a safe escape.
This made me think of all the times I would bother my sister. When she had had enough from me, she would get mean, and then I would go running and try to make an escape like Nutkin did.
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LibraryThing member benuathanasia
Lovely illustrations, but a stale, repetitive story. It's an interesting look at how social customs have changed; by today's standards, I'd say Nutkin is obnoxious, not necessarily rude, and certainly not deserving of the mutilation he received.
LibraryThing member a.stone5
Nutkin is an obnoxious little squirrel who likes to cause trouble. He kept pestering the owl when they went to collect nuts on his property, and he wasn't particularly respectful to him. The owl ignored Nutkin for the first few times and waited for his behavior to change. As Nutkin's behavior
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worsened, the owl decided to take action against the annoying little squirrel, and Nutkin ended up losing half of his tail. This teaches readers that there are consequences for being annoying and rude to others. Recommended for ages 5 and up.
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LibraryThing member dukefan86
This story's a good example of what can happen when you're obnoxious! Loved the illustrations in this Beatrix Potter tale.
LibraryThing member jwied2
Summary: The story is about a disrespectful annoying little squirrel that plays and ignores his work. The old owl ends up teaching him a lesson in the end that finally shuts his mouth.

Review: The book was hard to follow and the rhymes Nutkin used were definitely from an older time. The lesson to
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be taught is that when someone is disrespectful and ungrateful they will get taught a lesson. I can see this being used to show what tales used to be about and just the history of Beatrix Potter who is very well known and loved.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Avl, sans illus., on And if you know Potter's art, you can imagine the pix quite well for yourself. Good riddles; my favorite kind. Good lesson for the naughty little squirrel, too. I'm not a huge fan of Peter Rabbit, but I do like some of the other stories by Potter.


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Physical description

64 p.; 5.7 inches




0723234612 / 9780723234616

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