Life wisdom from "The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin"

This week we’re celebrating the #peterrabbitmovie and its host of Beatrix Potter’s wonderful story characters. More specifically, I’ve uncovered some nuggets of life – and parenting – advice in the pages of the classic “Squirrel Nutkin”


The six titbits are:

  • There really is a time to do pretty much anything;
  • You should not expect to get something for nothing;
  • We can’t control other people’s behavior;
  • There is always one passenger in a team;
  • No-one likes being teased unkindly;
  • There are consequences for bad behavior.


Let’s unpack these in a bit more detail.


#1 - There is a season for everything under the sun

King Solomon had it right – there really is a time and a place for everything. In the squirrels’ case, they had to wait until autumn before they could venture off to Owl island to collect the nuts for their winter store.




But just look how much planning and effort they put into the basic preparations to make sure they had rafts to get there, sacks to put the nuts in…and gifts for Old Brown Owl.


# 2 - Don’t expect to get something for nothing

It really struck me that the squirrels worked very hard (except for Nutkin) in finding a present to present to Old Brown as a form of payment for collecting nuts on “his” island.


They could have adopted the view that they could just take them. After all, Old Brown wasn’t going to eat them and they were just lying on the ground. But the squirrels recognized a value in the nuts and so were prepared to “pay” for them.


#3 - We can’t control the behavior of our friends or relatives

Have you had that moment – when you wanted to inflict serious pain on a badly behaving friend or relative?


Yet here Nutkin’s brother, Twinkleberry, and all the cousins get on with the hard work of collecting the nuts. No one tries to distract Nutkin, or tell him to behave. Or persuade him that he also needs to do some of this important work.


They must have been annoyed, but they let him be. Because they knew it would make no difference.


#4 - There is always one hanger-on in a team

I hesitated to add this in, but my personal experience in work or social events is that there is usually one dynamo who drives a team…but there is always one passenger who will contribute very little during the slog and grind.


Nutkin was that passenger in this case – he obviously expected to be feasting on the collected nuts along with all the other squirrels during the winter.


#5 - It may take time, but people will respond badly to being teased

One thing that always strikes me about Nutkin’s teasing of Old Brown is the incongruity of who’s doing the bullying. Old Brown is the (obviously) larger, stronger, smarter predator. Yes Nutkin persists, without seeming to think that there will a time when he will push Old Brown into responding.


Of course, when it comes, that response could well have proved literally fatal for Nutkin.


#6 - There are consequences for bad behavior – even if you get off relatively lightly

Not all children’s stories sugar-coat the truth – and Beatrix Potter’s statement that Old Brown will skin Nutkin is one of these (albeit that she was writing in a time and place when these brutal truths were on display for children to see every day).


Yes Nutkin managed to escape, but left his tail behind. And so for the rest of his life he was – literally – marked as “that” squirrel.


And perhaps it’s not a bad thing to remind ourselves that there can – and should be - adverse consequences for bullies from their behavior.


What are your thoughts about this Beatrix Potter loveable rogue? Please tell us in the comment section.


And here is a handy Amazon link if you’d like to read it for yourself.





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